14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 6, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
On Friday we celebrated the 238th anniversary
of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
And in a particular way we celebrate one of the main themes of that Declaration:
the “unalienable right” to liberty or freedom.
It’s a word most dearly cherished by us Americans,
But it’s also a word and an idea which causes some confusion for us.
We hear about all the controversies over individual liberties,
but no one can seem to agree on exactly what liberty means.
The problem seems to rest with our understanding of the concept of liberty.
Society’s popular understanding of liberty is as
an absolute independence from any constraints on personal behavior
— an absolute freedom to do whatever you what.
It recognizes this as an absolute and essential good
which we must pursue at all costs.
Essentially this concept of liberty is a “freedom from”
–freedom from others and freedom from responsibility.
We all believe that we should speak out in protection of our own liberties,
but in doing that, sometimes we develop the attitude that
we are free from the responsibility to protect those who are
too sick, too young, too innocent or too ignorant
to even know that their liberty is being abused,
much less exercise free speech about it.
We develop the attitude that everyone should be free to live life
the way they choose,
and so we free ourselves from the responsibility of taking care of others,
even the responsibility of raising and educating our own children.
We develop an attitude that we must be free from
the interference of anyone in our personal subjective beliefs,
and so we become free from the responsibility
to help others find objective truth,
and to protect society from false notions of truth.
And we become free from any responsibility
to even recognize the existence of God himself,
much less to recognize our country’s debt to Him by proclaiming
that we are “one nation under God,”
even though we are founded upon the first principle
that it is our “Creator” who has “endowed” us
“with certain unalienable rights, …among these”
being “Liberty” itself.
And once free from God we become free from any responsibility
to obey his commandments
because commandments aren’t consistent
with my freedom from interference in doing as I please.
And so we see a society which at once rightly celebrates
its great achievements in freedom,
but at the same times wonders at the continuing reality of
poverty, crime, corruption, domestic violence, rising divorce rates,
single parent families, contraceptive lifestyles, same-sex unions,
mothers killing their unborn children,
and children killing other children,
….the list goes on and on.
Perhaps society’s misunderstood this “liberty” thing.
What is the true meaning of liberty and freedom?
If I’m just free from something,
that would mean freedom leaves a big vacuum in my life
Freedom from things just results in me having nothing.
Who wants to be free if it means having nothing?
So any kind of meaningful or good freedom can’t mean
just freedom from something,
but rather it means freedom from something
in order to be free for something else.
Unfortunately, for many of us,
when we realize freedom from things is unsatisfying,
we decide to be free from responsibilities
in order to be free for satisfying our own selfish desires.
And so our society has developed a sense of freedom and liberty
based on a certain self-centeredness:
the idea that I must be free from all constrictions on me,
in order that I can be free to satisfy whatever I desire,
or to decide every issue based on what is best for me.
It is, essentially, a definition of liberty rooted in the sin of pride.
But this is not the society envisioned by Jesus Christ,
and it’s not the freedom found in the words of Holy Scripture.
It’s interesting to remember that in the first century AD,
the Jews had very little experience of liberty and freedom.
But one place that they did experience a very real freedom was in their religious life
–this was one of the few areas in which their Roman rulers
thought it best to allow their subjects some freedom.
Unfortunately, in exercising their religious liberty
many wound up refusing to accept the Messiah
who was the center of their religion,
even when he walked right into their synagogues and spoke to them.
Many refused because in their pride they clung to their preconceived notions
of a great political and military Messiah
–and this humble carpenter from Nazareth
did not meet their popular definition.
And yet we hear in today’s first reading
that this is exactly the kind of messiah God had promised:
before the prophet Zechariah speaks of the Messiah whose
“dominion shall be from sea to sea, and …to the ends of the earth.”
he first observes:
“See, your king shall come to you…meek,
and riding on …the foal of an ass.”
St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture that
“It was for liberty that Christ freed us;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
And that same St., Paul tells us in today’s second reading:
“If you live according to the flesh, you will die;
but if …you put to death the evil deeds of the body, you will live.”
For St. Paul true freedom and liberty is not a matter of
being completely independent to do what ever we want,
or to reject anyone or anything that impedes us in pursuing that end.
For St. Paul, freedom is a freedom from sin and pride
–what he calls today “the flesh”–
and a freedom for accepting the responsibilities
that come with being a Christian:
the responsibility to love God
with all your heart, mind soul and strength,
and love your neighbor as yourself.
Because, for St. Paul, a freedom that embraces our own selfish desires
is a freedom that soon becomes slavery
–the “yoke of slavery” to our own selfishness and pride: to sin.
And the only true freedom is the freedom of humbly submitting ourselves
to the love of Christ our King,
who, even though his “dominion shall be … to the ends of the earth,”
comes to us first and foremost as a meek and humble servant.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:
“Father, … what you have hidden from the wise and the learned
you have revealed to the little ones.”
We —his Church— are his little ones, his children.
Why would we ever look to the secular world
for instruction on something as important as the true meaning of freedom
when Christ himself has already revealed it to us?
And in that revelation Jesus has made it abundantly clear
that the definition of freedom and liberty embraced by
“the wise and the learned” oftheworld
is in reality nothing more than the path
to the yoke and burden of slavery to sin.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, offers us freedom from this burden.
“Come to me, all you who …find life burdensome, and I will give you rest.”
But at the same time he reminds us that “coming to him” doesn’t mean
an absolute freedom to do whatever you what.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart.
….my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
His yoke is “easy and light”
because rather than being the burden of the slavery of sin,
it is a burden of the responsibilities of freedom.
Rather than being a yoke we try to carry in prideful individuality
and radical independence,
it is a yoke of love that we carry in humble unity with our humble King,
and radical dependence on him,
who loves us so much he seeks to carry it with us.
Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we live in a political atmosphere which allows us
to freely listen to the Gospel proclaimed in our midst.
But do we use this freedom merely as an opportunity to exercise our pride
–to indulge our own self interest?
Or do take this as an opportunity
to more truly free ourselves from those things
which keep us from living humbly for Christ our King and His love?
Do we free ourselves for selfish satisfaction—“living according to the flesh—
letting pride take priority over the love of God and his will?
Or do we free ourselves for the responsibilities of Christianity,
humbly loving God, obeying his will, and serving our neighbor?
Liberty is a beautiful thing, and its right to celebrate it.
But as we celebrate our liberty and independence this weekend,
let us ask our Lord Jesus to give us the courage and the wisdom
to always joyfully celebrate our dependence on Him,
and humbly accept his idea of liberty:
a freedom from pride and sin,
and a freedom for the love of Christ and his Kingdom.