Sunday, July 3, 2011

A New Birth of True Christian Freedom

Homily from the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

I love the Fourth of July. One of my favorite figures of American History is John Adams. John Adams was probably more responsible for American independence and freedom than any other person in our history. He was short, fat, balding, obnoxious and loved to hear himself talk. I can relate to him in every way.

A couple of years ago, some of my brother seminarians and I went to Pennsylvania for fall break. We went to Philadelphia and visited Independence Hall where in 1776, in a small room not much bigger than this sanctuary, men such as Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin literally created the United States of America based on the idea that this nation should flourish in freedom.

We also visited Gettysburg where, for three days in the summer of 1863, approximately 50,000 Americans ended up as casualties in a great epic battle over whether or not our nation conceived in freedom could long endure.

And as I stood in the room in which our nation’s freedom was born and on the fields on which it faced its greatest test, I was filled with a tremendous amount of pride and gratitude for the freedom we enjoy, for which so many have given, and continue to give, their lives.

If you were to go up to someone on the street and ask them to define “freedom” they’d probably say something like, “Freedom is the ability to do whatever you want.” But I question the validity of that definition. Are we truly free, simply by doing whatever, whenever we want?

True freedom is choosing to do what is good for us and good for others and rejecting what is harmful to us and harmful to others. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to… do evil is an abuse of freedom” which only makes us slaves… slaves of sin.

We all know that bad feeling inside when we fail to choose to do good, don’t we? When we give in to temptation and slip into sin, if we ask ourselves honestly, we have to say we do not truly feel free.

Imagine the freedom, the power you feel when you say to yourself: “I have the freedom to avoid indecent images on the TV or the internet. I am not a slave to pornography.” “I have the freedom to remain chaste before marriage and save myself for my future spouse and them alone.” “I have the freedom to not take a drink today, or use drugs. I am not a slave to addiction.” “I have the freedom to not eat 6 coney dogs at Coney Island.” That is true freedom. That is Christian freedom. I think this is the kind of freedom the patriots of 1776 and the men of Gettysburg fought and died for. At the very least, it’s the freedom Jesus Christ died for.

This true freedom is what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel when he says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The yoke of freedom from sin is far lighter and easier than the yoke of slavery to sin. We labor under the yoke of sin and are heavily burdened. Jesus invites us to come to him, particularly in Confession, so that he may give us rest.

In his address at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln prayed that our nation, tested by the scourge of Civil War, would have a new birth of freedom. We too should pray and work for a new birth of freedom as well – a new birth of true Christian freedom; not just a psuedo-freedom to do whatever, whenever we want, but the freedom to live in virtue, free from the slavery of sin.

This new birth of true Christian freedom cannot be born in a small room in Philadelphia. It must be born here, in this Church where Jesus takes away our sins and feeds us with his Body and Blood. And this new birth of true Christian freedom cannot be fought for by someone else on the fields and farms of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We, empowered by the grace of God, must fight for it here in our fields and farms, on our streets and sidewalks, in our workplaces and our classrooms, in our hearts and homes and lives.

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