THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
We modern day Americans feel like we have a good grip on what freedom means. After all, we live in the "Land of the Free." In a few days, on July 4, we will be celebrating our freedom from English overrule with displays of fireworks, hotdogs and hamburgers, the national anthem and plenty of red, white and blue.
But freedom is not something we can take for granted. Turn on the news, and more and more you hear that our freedom is under attack. And I do not mean by foreign terrorists or enemy soldiers. People are worried about losing our freedom from within.
We are in the middle of a special "Fortnight for Freedom" instituted by our US Bishops, to pray for and defend religious liberty. This observance is to last from June 21 to July 4, and is meant to address many current challenges to religious freedom, including the looming August 1 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS contraception mandate, as well as the real possibility that recent same-sex marriage rulings will impact religious organizations and individuals. (If you haven't heard of the "Fortnight for Freedom" before, click here).
On the other side of the coin you have those on the political left claiming an affront to their freedom any time the absolute right to abortion is challenged. Many claim to personally believe abortion is wrong, but in the name of freedom will not allow anyone to dictate what they can and cannot do. It is all about choice.
Our modern understanding of freedom too often equates it with "choice." But not all choices are good ones. We can choose things that enslave us.
I love my Netflix account. It allows me to choose from a huge selection of movies and television shows to keep myself and my family entertained. But if it included an X-rated channel which streamed smut into my home, I would not allow it; I would not want my children exposed to that "choice." I want to protect them from becoming addicted to pornography.
Likewise I appreciate all the choices offered at my local supermarket. In addition to local produce I can get food from all over the world, any time of the year. But I would never shop at a grocer that had a "narcotics aisle." We recognize how addictive drugs can be, and that addiction reduces our choices down to one. We choose to feed our addiction, even if it causes irreparable harm to other aspects of our lives. Even if it kills us.
Sin can be just as addictive as heroine. It can enslave us. In today's second reading from Galatians, St. Paul tells us, "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery."
What does St. Paul mean by submitting to the yoke of slavery? He's talking about sin. He continues, "Do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh," and, "the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want."
You can use your freedom to sin. You can choose to do evil. You can choose hate and selfishness. You can choose indulgence and excess. You can choose to slowly kill your soul. Yes, you can even choose damnation. I have heard it said that God condemns no one to hell, but He allows those who have freely chosen it to go there. I believe this is true. We may ask, "Who would choose hell?" But people do, sadly, every day. They freely reject God. They reject love. They turn inward. And they do it all thinking it is their choice, their right.
People look upon the moral law of the Church -- a morality based on the natural law, which is to say it is based on the human person and so applicable to all -- as a restriction on their freedom. It is a series of "thou shalt nots." Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet your neighbor's goods. Thou shalt not have any gods before me... No, no, no. Not, not, not. How can this be freedom when you have the Church constantly telling you what not to do?
A wise person once quipped that the reason the Ten Commandments are negative statements is because it was more efficient for God to spell out the few things we can't do rather than list the infinite number of good things we can do.
Another way of looking at it is to imagine the moral life as an island in the middle of a turbulent, shark infested ocean. There are children on the island, huddled at the center for fear of stepping too close to the shore and being swept off to sea. They have no rules to follow, no restrictions. But are they truly "free?"
Then someone comes along and builds a fence around the perimeter of their island. Fences are built either to keep people out or keep them in. Fences restrict freedom in our way of thinking. But with the fence in place, the children are now able to run around and play, enjoying the whole island. They know as long as they stay within the fence, they will be safe from the sea. They are more free with the fence than without it.
The moral law is like that fence. We may choose to look upon it as restrictive, but in truth the only thing it restricts us from is our own peril. As long as we stay within the fence, we need not worry. We are in fact more free, because we know where the danger lies and how to avoid it.
Many of you no doubt use GPS devices to navigate on the road. We happily subject our "freedom" to this little electronic gadget that tells us where to go. Why do we do this? Because we know if we follow that path, we will arrive at our destination. Otherwise we would be lost. Submission in this case makes us more free.
Likewise we are made free by submitting to the law of God. He's laid out the path for us. He has erected the safety fences. This is why, of all people, the Christian is the most free. We know where we are going and how to get there.
In truth, the only thing we need to fear -- the only way we can lose the path -- is if we choose to stray. Pray today that we will never use our freedom for that purpose. Let us never use our freedom to choose the yoke of slavery to sin. This is not why Christ set us free. He freed us to become saints. He freed us to be joyful people. He freed us to love.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723