Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2013
The notion of freedom that is widely promoted today centers on the ability of the individual to be in absolute control of the world around them. We can see this notion in so many commercials. The person behind the new car console or the new computer screen or the new dishwasher is shown to us with almost divine powers: it will do whatever you want at the push of the button. This product will make reality conform to your will, and it will make that happen quickly and easily. You too, can be the master of your universe, you can avoid compromise, you can be completely and entirely free to make the world as you would like it to be.
Ecologically and socially, we see the same notion of freedom centered on the absolute power of the will: to be free means that I can determine for myself - just as I would fabricate a landscape or a character in a video game - the natural world around me, regardless of environmental consequences. The size, shape, gender, looks, functioning and even urges of my own body are all adapted to what I want. And further: all social interaction is on my terms. The so called ‘liberated’ person associates with those who they desire to associate with, determining for themselves at any given moment who will be their spouse, family, friends, children, parents, and neighbors, who they will like, and who they won't.
In cases like abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia we see how far this distorted sense of freedom can go. How many today argue that our freedom requires the ability to exercise control over life and death itself? To end one’s own life or the life of another human person is claimed to be a choice that the free person must be able make without reference to others.
Without reference to others, without reference to God, without reference to even our very selves: this is how we are told free people should be able to act. Without reference to anyone or anything, just pure absolute will.
But that is, actually, the very definition of hell. Life without reference to anyone or anything. An existence that produces only isolation, restlessness, and slavery. How restless, how lonely, how enslaved we become when our own will is our master. Slowly, reality is cut off from us, the ties of affection strangled as a bloated willfulness consumes more and more of our lives. Our existence is consumed by what we want next and what we are doing to get it. Gradually we lose the capability to love, to give of ourselves, to even notice others around us, not to mention the movements of the Spirit. It is the sin of Adam, and it is the sin of every man and woman, the original sin. It is the sin that enslaves, that Christ came to destroy. That is what he proclaims in our Gospel today.
Christ takes up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and declares that he brings to fulfillment the promise God made to our fathers: he will give liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, offers us the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, a freedom that cannot be found in this world, that cannot be found in our own will.
The Hebrew people were awakened once more to this truth by Ezra and Nehemiah as they heard God’s law read to them, we heard in our first reading. They saw once more that their prosperity, that their liberty lay precisely in their faithfulness to the commands of the Lord who alone can give us the freedom that we desire as his sons and daughters. “Amen, amen’ they cried upon hearing his commands: “I believe, I accept, I will follow.” I want to be free.
We who follow Christ must be witnesses to this truth about freedom and slavery in our world.
Our readings manifest this point clearly to us: freedom, liberty is a blessing bestowed on us by God when we follow his will.
True freedom cannot be claimed for ourselves, it is the reward given to those who acknowledge God’s claim on them.
And what does that look like, concretely? St. Paul understood the freedom of the sons and daughters of God better than most. He had been a slave to his own will and then, through an incredible grace that we just celebrated this Friday during the feast of his conversion, he was set free. He was liberated by his acceptance of the will of God. It was as though a weight had been lifted from him. He could not proclaim loudly enough: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Not my will, but his! I am free! So great was his love for Christ and the freedom that he had found in him that he even rejoiced over his struggles and persecutions because he saw them as opportunities to crucify his own will and live in complete dependence on the will of God that makes us free.
How many of us are mostly bamboozled on this one? How many of us are obsessed with trying to get our will done. Even when we pray, we are just asking God to do what we want. To free us from the aspects of life that we don’t like. If we desire true freedom, we should be asking God to free us from ourselves, not from our world. Asking him to help us fully embrace his will, our place in his body, the Church. Not to be like the foot that St. Paul speaks of in the second reading today, who says “Because I am not a hand, I am not part of the body.” How many people say “Because I am not a priest or a sister, because I haven’t taken vows, I don’t have to be entirely obedient to God’s will?” Baloney. St. Paul knew. You must follow God’s will if you want to be free. If you want to be happy. If you want to love. There is no other authentic source of freedom, true freedom only comes from God.
Only in God are we offered the freedom to be authentic to who we are, to act in accord with who God made us to be.
Only in God are we offered the freedom to live in harmony with one another. The freedom to love others as Christ has loved us, joyfully and generously.
Only in God are we offered the freedom to be in a profound union with Christ, who has made us members of his body.
Christ reveals to us that we will only be free when we freely accept God’s will and are faithful to it. When we take our place as members of his body, his body that liberates us and allows us to be our true selves, to live in true communion with one another, and to live in true union with God. You want to be free? Than want God’s will. Do you want God’s will? Than you will be free. We celebrated our parish’s patronal feast day, the Conversion of St. Paul, on Friday. May God help us to follow in Paul’s footsteps: to desire more than anything to do God’s will, and so to be liberated by the Spirit of the Body of Christ.