FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 30, 2019:
“Brothers and sister, for freedom Christ has set us free…You were called for freedom.” As our nation prepares to celebrate its Independence in just a few days, we could not have asked for better readings from Scripture. Our nation’s independence of course focusses our attention on the great gift of freedom that we enjoy in the United States. The freedom so bravely declared in that Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the freedom that we try to continue to preserve today. At this time of year, I always take a few moments to read the Declaration of Independence slowly, word for word. How can you not be moved by words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How perfect then that today we have a powerful reflection on freedom from St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. But, St. Paul offers an understanding of freedom more comprehensive, profound and challenging than any Fourth of July orator is likely to provide. As we heard St. Paul say, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” And this is where things get interesting.
According to St. Paul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been freed from something and for something – we have been freed from the dominion of sin, death and the flesh, and freed for life in the Spirit. This is the type of freedom that is worth something; this is the type of freedom that makes life worth living.
Too often, we define freedom very narrowly. Freedom means I can do what I want; or anything goes. Freedom in this way is a freedom from. We are free from things like oppression, or want, or hunger, or poverty, or even violence or other terrible things. And while this is certainly a good thing, it really doesn’t help us discover who we are, what we are called to, what we can be. Through Christ, we have all been made free. St. Paul asks us today, “What are we doing with that freedom?” He reminds us that through our Baptism, in Christ, the freedom that He won for us on the cross is not merely a freedom from some sort of oppression, but more powerfully it is a freedom for the world. It is a freedom that calls us to be something great.
It reminds me of when I took my vows as a religious – vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We had an older friar who used to like to describe them this way: He would says, the vows are No Money, No Honey, No Say. He was, of course, joking, but this is a view that sees religious vows only as restrictions, when in reality, in these vows – much like marriage vows – we see exactly the kind of freedom for Christ that St. Paul envisions. In the vow of poverty, we see the freedom to not be concerned with high paying jobs, acquiring material goods, power, or status and instead be completely free to be where Jesus and the Church needs us. In the vow of chastity, we see the freedom that instead of being a loving presence to one spouse, we embrace the freedom to be God’s loving presence to all of His people. And in the vow of obedience, we become free to not be preoccupied with our own will and our own desires, but to move with the freedom of the wind in the ways that God calls us through the Church.
While the way we live out these vows is particular to someone who is a religious or a priest, the idea and the freedom behind them is for everyone. St. Paul said, “Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We see how heavy and pervasive this yoke of slavery is in our world today. How many people are yoked so strongly to their desire to make money and acquire material that they ignore their fundamental relationship with God and even with their own families? How many people are yoked so strongly to the damaging culture of today that they worship that and deny the beauty and sanctity of every created person? How many people today are yoked so strongly to their own will, their own way that they trample right over those in front of them through lies, deceit, gossip and control? God has given us freedom. Nothing can take that away. But, now that we are free from things, what will we be free for? Let us be free to love radically, forgive completely, show compassion constantly, reach out to our neighbor faithfully, welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger joyfully. These are the things that will change not only our lives, but will make our world the kind of place worthy of the freedom we have been gifted.
As we mark our nation’s freedom this week, let us be reminded that God is calling us to something greater – the most radical freedom ever seen in this world. “For freedom Christ set us free…you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters…serve one another through love.”
You were called for freedom. Do you want to be free?
May the Lord give you peace.