Spirituality and religion: an Interview with Dr. Freund - HAM's European Correspondent

Dr. Freund is HAM’s new European correspondent for spirituality and religion.

For over 30 years, I have known Dr. Freund as a teacher, colleague and friend that I first met in Montreal while I was studying at McGill University.

He is the kind of person you can speak to after a year and pick up from your last conversation right where you left. We are all so fortunate to have such a friend.

Over the years I kept up with Dr. Freund regularly even when he moved away from Montreal. I had the opportunity to meet his wife's mother in Germany in the seventies.

I visited him in Belgium once when he was teaching there. I also caught up with him one summer when he was working in Lyon, France. Over the years he regularly returns to Montreal with his wife in the fall to catch up with friends and colleagues.

He has always been interested in the role that spirituality and religion play in the life of Christians.

Now living in Germany, he is 75 years young. He is as full of energy as ever even though he has the usual aches and pains of an older person. He loves classical music and plays the clavichord. Since I’ve known him, he has always been a very devout Catholic. I asked Dr. Freund about the role of religion and spirituality in his life as he ages.

The Spirit Unites Us in Hope

Here are the questions I asked Dr. Freund:

I know you are a very devout Catholic. Let me ask you about the role of spirituality and religion in your life. What role does religion now play?

Dr. Freund: You have known me decades ago as a “devout Catholic." NOW I regard myself as an open, liberal Christian. We just celebrated Pentecost/Whitsunday – the most important Christian feast. You do not explicitly have to believe in an empty grave, the physical resurrection – and yet the spirit which unites us in HOPE prevails. As Augustine says: “against all odds.”

The institution (Catholic Church) has outlived itself over centuries in its canon-law based quest for power and might. And for the present German pope the Lutheran church is only a “Christian community.” It is in fact the (Holy) Spirit which directs us and which we should desire for our split (and corrupt) world. But, beware of Christian (and other) fundamentalists!!

And not to forget the sacred music. What would my life be without the Bach cantatas, polyphonic masses, Gregorian chant, psalms of Taizé?

As you age, what are the spiritual principles that are most important for you?

Dr. Freund: Being grateful for my existence, praying by thinking, regularly – wherever I am - for and to the Holy Spirit for myself ( now and after), for my wife, family, friends, all those whom I have met, meet now and will still meet in the future, and for those who are less fortunate: the sick, dying, poor, and the persecuted.

Do you have a fear of aging? If so, how have your religious and spiritual beliefs helped you with this fear?

Dr. Freund: Recently, in two so-called “routine” operations ( the first one failed), the basic fear of death came up again (after a “clinical death” and “near death” experiences 30 years ago).

It is the fear of depending on others, of being left alone in despair, the fear for the care of my then surviving wife, of the process of dying – not of death itself - a long sickness.

There is only ONE prayer which then helps, spoken like a mantra: the “Our Father” and, maybe, “Come, Holy Spirit.”

What are some of the things that make you genuinely happy?

Dr. Freund: Meeting friends and people of all walks of life and nations, to travel, if possible, sitting on top of a mountain or on a lonely beach at the seaside. There meditating on the universe and our small time and place in it.

Or looking at the skies (particularly so vast over Canada!). Then to wake up in (relatively) good health, every morning with sunshine, to hug my wife, also in good health, seeing the greenery around us, the normal settings of life here in our city.

And not to have to wake up in the parallel world of illness, hospitals.

What has given you the greatest sense of meaning so far in your life?

Dr. Freund: To meet people, to give and to receive (unsolicited). Sometimes we help foreign students (also financially), however with the understanding that they – someday – “pay back” to others in the next generation.

Unfortunately, the inhuman evil grows and expands automatically in our world.

The good – you have to sow! Herein alone rests our human and Christian “faith, hope and love”!

Thank you, Dr. Freund, for sharing these words of wisdom and hope.

Image: A dove- symbol of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

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