Sunday, July 04, 2010

Independence Day and True Freedom

Here is my homily for the 14 Sunday of Ordinary Time, July 4th, 2010. The reading may be found here.

Today our nation celebrates the freedom that we have because of our independence from the King of England. The liturgy has the church celebrating the freedom that we have because of our dependence on the King of Heaven and Earth. We as Americans remember how the Sons of Liberty struggled to throw off the reign of tyranny in order that we might live in a country built on freedom. And as Catholics the gospel presents to us disciples throwing off the reign of evil so that, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we may enjoy the liberty of the sons and daughters of God. As citizens of New Hampshire, today we celebrate in a special way the state motto “Live Free or Die”. And as Catholics we recognize the eternal truth in that statement that unless we live free from sin, we will indeed die spiritually and not come to enjoy the blessings of eternal life promised us by God.

Yet on this Independence Day, a day we celebrate freedom, the good news given to us is that we can indeed live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, free of the power of sin in our lives, that we can indeed become saints, in and through our dependence on God.


With God, what seems impossible to us is possible. After the people of God had been scattered and Jerusalem had been destroyed, it seemed impossible to our ancestors in the faith that their nation would ever be restored. And yet as Isaiah announces in the first reading, God brings about what is beyond our human capacity. He promises to restore Jerusalem, to comfort his people as mother comforts her child, and this promise He fulfills.


In the gospel, Jesus sends out 72 disciples, giving them authority over evil spirits, and they come back rejoicing that what had seemed impossible to them was made possible by God, that they might be able to overcome the power of sin and evil in their lives and help be instruments of God's Kingdom in the lives of others.
 

Saint Paul reminds us of how important it is for us to become new creations, that as important as the our rites and sacraments are, they mean nothing if one is not willing to break free from the reign of sin in one's life. This is why at mass we recall our sins and ask God for pardon and the strength to to break from sin. This is why in the sacrament of reconciliation when we say the act of contrition we express, not only our sorrow over our sins, but also our intention to pick up where we left off in our struggle against sin and its power over us, so as to reform our lives and sin no more.

St. Paul also stresses how important the power of Christ's cross is. He does not boast of his own ability to be righteous but in the power over sin that Christ has given him (Paul) in and through His death on the cross. This is why Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ.


Being free from sin and becoming a new creation can seem impossible to us. Often we tend to fall into the same sins, and we can get discouraged. We can even begin to think it impossible for us to not give in to a certain temptation. And yet Jesus Christ overcame sin and death through his cross and resurrection. To his disciples he gave the “power to 'tread upon serpents' and scorpions ... upon the full force of the enemy”, that is power to overcome sin and to resist temptation. Not only that, but as he does in the gospel, Jesus also warns us when we are about to fall into sin. The disciples come back from having done so many amazing things and are overjoyed. Yet Jesus warns them about one of the most sneaky temptations to sin, the temptation to spiritual pride, that is getting puffed up in one's own not so humble opinion of one's self. Jesus reminds them that it is not so important what they are able to do but that God so loves them that He has revealed himself to them in order to free them from sin and bring them into the joys of His Kingdom. So we see a couple of things that may surprise us. Jesus give his disciples the ability to overcome sin and temptation through a sharing in his power and his authority. But Jesus also has his disciples' backs. He warns them when they are in danger of sinning. If this is what he does for his disciples in the gospel, can he not also do this for us? He can indeed do this. This was indeed His plan when He gave us “power from on high” in the person of the Holy Spirit. God is with us in our own struggle for spiritual freedom. And if God is for us, who can be against us. As long as we persevere in our struggle against sin and not get discouraged at our own lack of results.


One such saint who struggled and did not let herself get discouraged was St. Therese of Lisieux. Despite realizing her inability to do great penances or to pray without being distracted or without occasionally falling asleep, and even coming to terms with her own personal struggles, St. Therese took comfort in the words of Isaiah, “As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Therese decided to trust God in her smallness and follow what would be called the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood. Because of the prophetic value to the Church of her teaching of simple childlike trust in God, Pope John Paul II declared her to be a doctor of the church in 1997.


We have a great need for Therese's childlike simplicity and dependence on God's goodness. In a world that prides itself on rugged individualism, on know-how and technology, we can easily begin to rely on our own strength and our own capabilities even in the spiritual life. And yet our true freedom, our true strength and joy, come not from declaring and proving our independence from God, but from recognizing our very dependence on His goodness, on His mercy, on His grace and on His love.


To help us cultivate our trust in God in imitation of St. Therese we can practice what's called an attitude of gratitude. Often times we look at our lives in terms of successes and pleasures that are tangible instead of remembering that our true happiness comes from God. We tend to take our eyes off the prize of heaven and forget that God is completely and totally for us and on our side when it comes to our spiritual life and our sanctification. To counter this tendency we can take some time to count our blessings, to remember that our names our written in heaven. Whether at the end of the day or on the way to work or especially when we feel down and out, we can take the time look back and think of all the blessings God has given us, the very gift of life that we so often take for granted, the friends and family members, who at the least have been there for us or provided for our needs, the many small ways that God has answered our prayers, even going so far to recognize the good things that have come from suffering and trials. All these can help us to see God's hand at work in our lives.

 

If we take time to count our blessings we can indeed grow in the hope and the trust that God is on our side and that God is for us, and that through Christ's passion and cross, He will indeed give us the strength and power to live free from sin, to cast off the tyranny of temptation, and to celebrate our true freedom as sons and daughters of God. This Independence Day, we Catholics celebrate our true freedom, because in God, and in His power to overcome sin at work in our lives, we trust.