July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Springfield, Va.

Tomorrow our nation celebrates 235 years of freedom.
As Catholics it is especially right for us to celebrate that freedom,
since we believe that God created us in the beginning
to live in freedom:
in a very real way we are not fully human if we are not free.
And yet as we celebrate freedom,
particularly in the context of freedom from the yoke of a foreign King,
we hear Christ telling us that in order to be truly free we must, as he says:
“Take my yoke upon you.”

Think about this.
With all the things we think or experience as “freedom”,
have you ever thought about how free we actually are?

As Americans, we are free to enter any profession we want.
But in a very real way our freedom to do so is limited
by one responsibility or another,
or by lack of financial resources
or even lack of the requisite intelligence, necessary to enter that field.

We are free to buy whatever we want.
But how free are we to buy whatever we want if we don’t have the money.
You may say, but we’re free to get the money by working hard.
But sometimes circumstances beyond our control
keep us from making or saving that money.

And even if we have the money to buy the things we want,
do we really freely chose what we want?
Did you design the clothes you’re wearing,
or are you wearing them because someone else said they’re fashionable?
We let people tell us what to wear all the time.
There’s a kind of limitation of freedom, isn’t there?

We’re also free to hold whatever political beliefs we wish.
But how many of us, for all practical purposes, freely bind ourselves
in the chains of one or the other political ideology
so that we almost slavishly follow along whatever
a particular party or movement decides for us?

These are all very real obstacles to freedom,
but the worst obstacle is summarized in one word: sin.
How many of us start out to do something good, wind up doing the exact opposite.
As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
“I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Yes, sin is freely chosen, but temptation can be powerfully coercive
and once chosen we can easily become it’s slave.

Now, all of this is not to make you fill like freedom is an illusion or meaningless.
But rather, to remind us that freedom as the world normally thinks of freedom
is never complete, and always constrained by something.

Unfortunately, the realization of the obstacles to freedom
leads many to think that everything that in anyway
seems to constrain freedom must be removed.
I say “unfortunately” because while removing obstacles to freedom in life
is generally a good thing
the problem is, that a lot of things some consider
to be obstacles or constraints on freedom
actually work to enhance freedom.

For example the laws of society:
at first glance, laws can seem to deny you the freedom
to do whatever you want,
but in the end they actually promote your freedom.
For instance, the law says you’re not free to kill other people whenever you want,
but that in turn enhances the freedom of everyone
both to live, and to live without paralyzing fear.

Or take the case of children.
Children are equal citizens under our American law and constitution.
Yet, we wisely do not give them the freedoms of an adult:
they can’t drink alcohol, or choose where they live or go to school;
they can’t sign valid contracts, or marry;
and they can’t vote.
More importantly, not only does society impose these rules,
but parents have their own rules.
Children, especially little children, need parental discipline
—not to constrain their freedom, but to enhance that freedom.
I remember when I was 3 years old
and rushed freely out of the house to play in the street.
Momma taught me very quickly and forcefully
that I did not have that freedom to get myself run over
so I’d be free to play another day.

And more important still, parents have to teach their kids
the self-discipline necessary for life.
We teach them not to be distracted during studies or at Mass
—suppressing their curiosity about what’s going on outside or on cable,
in order to free their minds to learn or to draw closer to God.

And as children grow this self-discipline is key to being a free adult.
How many adults that you know seem to be controlled by emotions,
especially hatred or fear or pride or greed or envy or gluttony or lust?
Are they truly free?

In the end, every human being must have a set of rules guiding his or her behavior,
that limit their freedom to be foolish or evil
in order to increase their over all freedom of life.

These rules are what we call our “moral principles” or “values.”
Nowadays some say that it’s true that we all need to have morals,
but people can figure out what’s right and wrong on their own.
So they say we don’t need a Church or the Bible
to teach us about morality
—that popes and priests shouldn’t impose their own morals on other people.

Now, it’s true that some things are very easy to recognize as right or wrong.
Unfortunately, some are not so easy to recognize,
and some things that should be easy
still aren’t always recognized like they should be.

And so the Church steps in to remind us.
For example, it seems pretty obvious to us today
that you should feed people who can’t feed themselves.
And yet throughout the centuries it’s been the Church
that’s had to constantly remind us.

It seems pretty obvious to us today that man is endowed by his Creator
by certain freedoms and rights.
And yet, again, this comes to us from the Judeo-Christian understanding of man
as being is created in the image of God with God-given rights and freedoms.

With all that, it’s amazing to me how so many nowadays attack the Church
as an enemy of freedom,
when it teaches that some things
that to some seem to enhance freedom,
like contraception, abortion, extra-marital sex
and homosexual acts:
in reality constrain freedom.
For example, in an abortion:
the freedom of a mother to abort destroys the freedom of a baby to live.

If all this is true, that on the one hand we’re never completely free in this world,
and on the other hand
that we need rules to properly order the freedom we have
so that freedom will thrive,
that still leaves us with a lot of questions.
In particular:
is there any freedom that can be achieved in this world without limitation?
And if so, what rules do we follow
that will enhance that freedom in our lives?

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus pray to His Father:
“although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.”
The most amazing thing about children is their openness to others,
how they so freely give and receive love.
We see how 2 little children who are complete strangers
can play like fast friends in the sand box,
and how they open wide their arms to an adult they can sense loves them.
This is what Jesus is talking about:
unless you are willing to LOVE as freely as a child….

And this is the freedom we all seek: the freedom to love.
This is the only freedom we can really possess completely and perfectly.
And what surprise is there in that?
Scripture makes it very clear that man is created
in the image of the God who IS love
—he created us to receive his love and love him in return.
And in his image he created us as male and female and told us to multiply
—to love family and all the rest of mankind.
In short, man is a creature designed to love.

And so, except for the freedom to live,
freedom to love is the most basic of freedoms,
and the freedom most completely realizable on earth.
Because it’s pretty hard to block this freedom—because it’s inside you.
It doesn’t take any money or education,
and opportunities abound at every moment.

Of course there is one major obstacles to this freedom: sin.
But what is sin but a choice not to love, or to abuse love in some way?
When others treat us badly, or society is unjust,
when we yield to the temptation of our own passions,
and let hatred, fear, pride, greed, envy or lust control us.
All these choices not to love are sins.

But as difficult as these obstacles are, they can be overcome,
and the freedom to love can be realized on earth
through the love of Christ.
As Pope Benedict once wrote about St. Paul:
“The experience of being loved to the end by Christ opened [Paul’s] eyes
about truth and the path of human existence….
This love is now the “law” of his life
and…was the freedom of his life.”

The love of Christ frees us from sin, and frees us to love.
And the rule or the law that protects our freedom is the law of love,
“you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And that law of love has more specific content, the “rules of love,” so to speak,
the 10 Commandments and the moral teaching of Jesus,
which help us to know
what love truly is,
and what things might destroy love.
And how are you free to exercise a gift if you don’t even know what it is?
And how can we be free to enjoy something by acting to destroy it?

So, for example, the 6th Commandment “thou shall not commit adultery”
protects our freedom to love in marriage
by helping us to understand what marriage is,
and keeping us from doing things to destroy marriage.

Think about this.
If you exercise a supposed freedom to cheat on your spouse,
you’ll probably lose your freedom to participate in your marriage.
Or if you freely divorce your spouse
you take away your spouse’s freedom to remain married.
And how will children be free to live and love in a family
if mom’s and dads are free to abandon or tear apart that family?

So Jesus explains the 6th commandment, saying:
“What …God has joined together, no man can separate”;
and “whoever divorces his wife…and marries another, commits adultery.”

And how can we exercise the freedom to marry
if we don’t even understand what marriage is?
For example, some say, marriage is just a contract
forming a temporary sexually-based emotional relationship,
even if it’s between 2 men, or 2 women.
So Jesus explains, no:
“he who made them from the beginning
made them male and female,
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall …be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh’?”

Beyond all that, what kind of freedom do we really exercise
when we bind ourselves in blind obedience to ideologies or popular opinion?
Most of all, what freedom do we really enjoy
if we choose to live as slaves of our passions,
rather than free in the love of Christ?

And so Christ goes on to tell us today:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Come to me with all the things that deny you the freedom to love,
to become who you were created to be.
whether it’s your own sinful choices, or your own limitations,
or the sins of others or the limitations others impose on you.
Come to me and I will give you my love, my freedom.

He says:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me”:
freely choose to love me, and to be guided by my love,
“For I am meek and humble of heart.”
learn from me because I don’t use my freedom to be prideful or selfish,
but I freely choose to humbly love.
And if you do this, if you exchange the burden of sin and the world,
“you will find rest”—you will find true freedom.
Because, he says, “my yoke is easy, and my burden light”:
because this will be the most natural thing in the world for you to do:
like a bird was created to fly freely in the sky,
you were created to live freely in love, guided by Christ’s love.
And not only guided by his love,
but lifted up by his love—in his love he carries the burdens of life with you.

We must freely choose to “take up” the yoke, the love, of Christ.
But if we do, the love of Christ will set us free,
and no obstacle will take away that freedom.
As St. Paul says elsewhere
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,
or peril, or sword?
…No,…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

July 4th, 1776 was truly a momentous day
in the history of our nation and the world,
and should be celebrated by all Americans, and, I think, by all mankind.
But let us never use the limited freedom we enjoy and celebrate as an excuse
to loose sight of the most fundamental freedom
God has in mind for all of us: the freedom to love.
Let us instead accept the yoke of Jesus Christ,
a yoke that is easy and light,
because it is a yoke of love, that guides in love and to love,
and thereby to true, perfect and everlasting freedom.

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