Thirteenth Sunday: True Freedom
As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, I was reflecting on our country and on the second reading for today, from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. We Americans give great weight to the law, and this is good. We are able to travel from state to state without one state saying, “I’m sorry, we are not allowing any more Floridians to visit New York.” Our rights are protected by the Constitution and its amendments. Our government must operate within the parameters of the law. The three branches of the federal government revolve around the law. The executive branch enforces the law. The judicial branch protects the law, and the legislative branch makes the law. You can watch them on C-Span, although, I have to warn you of the validity of the old saying, “If you respect the law and like to eat hot dogs, you really shouldn’t watch either one being made.” Still, we live in the land of the free and are proud of our country and our freedom.
But, our strict adherence to the law has given rise to a very strange method of living embraced by many, particularly those influenced by the secular elements of society. There is a attitude that says: Something is acceptable as long as it is not illegal.
This confusion has led to people being more concerned about law than about morality. If something is not illegal, than, according to many, it is OK. This is not true. In the United States we have a legal right to be immoral. So, people will say, “There is nothing wrong with me doing this or that; it is not against the law.” You see, illegal is getting confused with immoral.
It is legal for a mother to have a child within her killed even when the child is viable, could live outside her. It is still immoral. It is legal for people to engage in indecent activity. It is still immoral. It is legal for people to cheat on their spouses. It is still immoral.
Enough is enough. We have to stop confusing legality with morality. We need leaders who will stand up for the truth of Jesus Christ and who will stand up to those who wish to use legality as a justification for immorality. We need to protect our children from people of low moral standards.
But it is very hard out there. So many times people will say, correctly, “Going to Church does not make someone a Christian.” True, but it helps. The world is very difficult. We need to withstand the attacks of those who say to the teenage girl, “What, are you the only girl in high school who is still a virgin?” We need to fortify our integrity and not be like a teenage boy who uses a girlfriend as an object to brag about instead of someone with whom he can develop a caring relationship. We need strength to throw out that flier inviting us to immorality. We need courage to avoid that party where drugs and drunks abound. We need the Eucharist. We need the spiritual strength of the Eucharist in order to withstand the assaults on our integrity. Or as one our finest and oldest parishioners once said to me, “I don’t go to Church because I have great faith. I go to Church because I need faith.”
The proper exercise of freedom is the main point of today’s second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. He had told them that they need not be bound by the detailed prescriptions of rabbinical law. They were freed from this by
Jesus Christ. But they had to use their freedom properly. Freedom should be used to serve each other in love. He warns them that giving in to depravity will destroy their freedom and turn them into slaves of their own bodies. Then he gives them a guide for life. “Live by the Spirit and you will not be enslaved by the flesh, for spirit and flesh are opposed to each other.”
Freedom must be used correctly. Parents of teenagers are acutely aware of this. They allow their Teens to drive, but set rules as to where they can go, whom they allow in their car, etc. They allow their Teens to go out, but set rules as to when they have to come home. When a Teen slips up and violates the rules, parents suspend their freedom telling their kids, “Learn to use your freedom properly, or you will lose your freedom.”
It is the same for all of us. If we don’t use our freedom properly, we will lose it. If a husband or wife does not treasure his or her spouse’s love, and gives to another what belongs to only one, then he or she will lose the freedom to continue a life of love. If a priest takes a vacation from being who he is, not a vacation from ministry, but a vacation from being a priest and even a vacation from Christianity, he will have nothing to return to when the vacation ends. If a single person embarks on a life with no limits, he or she will end up with no life, period.
The old army slogan is really the Christians slogan, only taken far deeper. The army encourages people to join and be all they can be. Jesus Christ tells us to join Him and be all we can be. His Spirit gives us to ability to use our freedom properly. We are free to become the unique reflection of God’s love each of us was called to become.
The choices we make in our lives should not be limited by legality. They should be determined by the guide of the Spirit: What can I do that will make Jesus evident in our world?
When we have the courage to make these choices, when we have the courage to live by his Spirit, then we will be free.