Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Freedom
Throughout our lives, we often have a thought that a time will come when we will finally be free, free of the authority that keeps us from doing what we want to do. When we were little, we viewed each stage of school as a step to greater freedom. For example, we thought that once we got to high school, we would be free to do all the things that Middle School wouldn’t let us do. But then we found out that high school demanded so much work that our freedom was limited. We thought that when we got our driver’s license, we would be free to come and go as we want. Then we were introduced to the concept of paying for gas, insurance, a car; and, yikes, we had to get a job. So much for that freedom. Similar things happened when we got to college, when we started our lives independent of our parents. Those who married took on a deep responsibility towards their spouses, a responsibility that limited their actions in favor of caring for another. Selfless love. And then children came, and real responsibility hit. You married may have thought that life would begin after the kids moved out and the dog died, but it didn’t. You still had to work hard. Those who retired may have thought that they would finally be free to do whatever they wanted, but they aren’t. They have responsibilities to others. They are increasingly limited by their own health or the health of their spouse. There is always some force, something over us that limits our freedom.
We are wrong if we define freedom as the ability to do whatever we want without having to bend to any sort of authority. All societies demand authority, whether that is the society of the family, where the good of the marriage determines the actions of the spouses, where the parents guide, or civil society where respect for others and their property determines what we can and cannot do, or the society of God, where our reverence for the Lord motivates our actions.
The Christian defines freedom in a different way. For the Christian, freedom is the ability to be the unique person that God created each of us to be. We all know this and experience this. We are at our happiest when we are at our best. Yes, we have responsibilities, and, yes, we have authority over us, but this does not limit our freedom. Our freedom comes from being our best selves.
Francesca Battistelli, one of my favorite contemporary Christian songwriters, wrote a wonderful song expressing this: She goes back to her youth and realized that she may have thought that she had the world figured out, but needed God to understand it. She comes to the conclusion:
Sometimes I believe that I can do anything
Yet other times I think
I've got nothing good to bring
But You look at my heart and You tell me
That I've got all You seek,
Perfection is my enemy
And on my own I'm so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I'm free to be me and You're free to be You. ©CCLI License #2368115
And that is where freedom leads us. When we are free to be our true selves as God created us, then we allow His reflection to be viewed by the world.
The freedom to be God’s reflection to the world is what gave Maximilian Kolbe freedom as he sat in the starvation cell of Auschwitz. You know his story, but you may not realize that he was a respected spiritual writer, a leader of the Marian movement as well as a Franciscan missionary founding monasteries in Japan and India. He returned to his native Poland where he helped shelter thousands of Jews. The Nazi’s caught up to him and sent him to the concentration camp. When a prisoner escaped, ten others were chosen to die. One man, Francizek Gajowniczeek cried “My wife, my children.” Fr. Kolbe said, “Take me instead.” No greater love. He was imprisoned, he suffered, and yet he was free. The world saw Christ on the Cross in a unique way through St. Maximillian Kolbe.
There are so may others, be they canonized saints, or members of your own families, and many of you who are continually at your best because you are always giving to others. If at any time in our lives others can see Christ in us, even if it is only a glimpse, then we are free, free to be who God meant us to be.
We cannot let our freedom be destroyed by licentiousness. This is what St. Paul is speaking about in the second reading. We cannot allow anything to keep us from being our best. When we confuse freedom with licentiousness, we bind ourselves to our sins. For example, a wild bachelor may think he is free to use girls as he sees fit. But he renders himself incapable of forming a relationship with a woman as a person who can lead him to God and whom he could lead to God in the sacrament of marriage. Many young girls make the same terrible mistake, living loose and then being incapable of making a lasting commitment. How many people are chained by their sins! They embraced a sinful life to spite others, to exercise in what they thought would be freedom. Instead, they ended up incapable of being themselves.
Jesus Christ sets us free. We need to treasure this freedom. We need to treasure our lives in Him. But this takes courage. This takes determination. We cannot just say we are Christian. We have to be determined to live the Christian life. Think of Elisha in today’s first reading. He was so determined to heed God’s call and follow Elijah that he slaughtered his twelve head of oxen and burned their yokes. There would be no turning back. We can have that determination. We can conquer anything that is holding us back from being our best selves. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, we can set our faces like flint towards Jerusalem to do whatever the Father’s will is for us. We can be our best selves. We men can be Men of God. You ladies can be Women of God.
We seek the grace, the wisdom and the courage to be whom God calls us to be.
We seek freedom.