Sunday, March 26, 2017

Children of Light

Christ Healing the Blind (c. 1570), El Greco

One of the most important lessons in life is that reality is sometimes a little different than we perceive. There are a variety of familiar maxims which express this idea: “Looks can be deceiving;” “Don’t judge a book by its cover;” “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

Children learn this idea as they age, but we adults have to relearn it at times as well. Maybe the major we always planned study for turns out to not be our cup of tea after all. Maybe the relationship that we thought was merely that between friends is actually something deeper and romantic. Maybe the dream job that we’ve sought for so long turns out to be less glamorous or more stressful than we had thought. Life is full of surprises, and often what we anticipate and expect is not what turns out to be.

The same is true our spiritual lives. “Not as man sees does God see,” we heard in our first reading. Or in the similar words of Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” Our readings for today show this clearly. In the Gospel today, Jesus acts contrary to the expectations of those around him by taking notice of the blind man and healing him. People of the first century, if they had noticed him at all, would have assumed that his affliction was due to his own sinfulness, as the Pharisees state. But Jesus stops, stoops down, and changes the blind man’s entire life in an instant.

His encounter with Jesus gives him something much greater than just the physical ability to see. Did you notice how Jesus healed the blind man? He made clay and put it on his eyes. Just as God formed Adam from the clay in Eden so too does Jesus’s healing recreate the man, so to speak, giving him not just physical sight but also the spiritual vision by which he sees the world entirely anew. Just like the woman at the well in last week’s Gospel, he is changed by this encounter with Jesus. His neighbors even debate about whether it’s really him or someone who looks like him; more importantly, he now is able to testify about Jesus to the Pharisees, who have physical sight but who are blind to the power of God before them.

The story of the blind man is, in many ways, symbolic of the story of every Christian. You and I were born in blindness, lacking spiritual vision and discordant with the way that God desires us to be. But at our baptism, we encountered the healing power of Christ, restoring us to God’s friendship and giving us the gift of faith by which we can see the world anew. Our journey through Lent is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of what we have been given, of the dignity of the gift we have received. Christ has healed our blindness and brought light to our darkness; now he calls us also to be bearers of light in his name so that others also may come to see.

That’s the message of St. Paul in his letter to the Christians of Ephesus. He reminds us that having been called out of darkness, we are now “children of light”. Jesus is the Light of the World, and those who have seen his light – indeed, those who have been given new sight by him – are called to also be light for others. We can’t go back to darkness, to being spiritually blind. Rather, when others look at us, when they look at how we live, they should see in us He who is the Light of the World.

Friends, we are reminded often that things aren’t always what they seem. The same is true for God – he acts in ways that are unexpected, always reaching out to us to surprise us again with a love that heals and restores. Jesus brings us new vision, a way of seeing things anew with spiritual sight, a light by which we leave behind darkness. Let’s deepen our faith again in these last few weeks of Lent, so that others can see in us the way that we have been changed by meeting Jesus, and all of us can together say, like the blind man, “I do believe, Lord.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Slake Your Thirst

Last week, I received a distressing email from a man in eastern Africa. No, it wasn’t one of those scams, asking me to help a very rich person who has found themselves in sudden, dire need. Instead, it was from an American whom I have met before, and someone I admire quite a bit.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I spent some time in Ethiopia with Catholic Relief Services years ago, and I still serve today in their Global Fellows program, helping to build awareness for the important work that they do in our name as US Catholics. The email I received was from a man named Lane Bunkers, who serves as the CRS Country Representative for Kenya. He was writing to let us know of the severe drought that is currently affecting millions of people in eastern Africa. Entire crops have been lost; livestock are shriveling up and dying; families are uprooting to search for water for themselves and their animals.

We are blessed in America to generally not have to think much about where our water comes from, whether it’s safe to drink, and whether there’s enough of it. Outside of a pipe breaking or a bit of algae giving it a stranger taste than usual, our water is safe and plentiful. But that’s simply not the reality in much of the world, and it hasn’t been the reality for much of human history.

Our readings for today bear that out well. In the reading from Exodus, the Israelites are complaining out of thirst, reasonably enough. They are, after all, wandering in the desert of Sinai. Having been rescued from Egypt by the Lord, they are not yet ready to enter the Promised Land; they first must come to know who God is and what he commands of them. But despite their grumbling and ingratitude, God provides for them. Moses commands water to come forth from the rock, and they drink to their fill.

In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. She too is thirsty, though perhaps Jesus knows it better than she. This woman is alone, in the hottest part of the day, and someone who has scandalously been with a number of men. What she craves is not just water to slake her thirst, but the Living Water of mercy, of reconciliation, of starting anew. And she encounters in Jesus someone who not only speaks to her but enters into dialogue with her – who gives her the dignity to be someone worthy of attention. Jesus shows how God does not begin to address any of us with castigation, with overwhelming guilt – rather, he appeals to our desire, to our want.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (1639) by Guercino

What are you thirsting for? And where are you seeking to quench that thirst? The human spirit is constantly searching for satisfaction, for a remedy to our troubles, for something to refresh our parched spirits. But nothing truly fills us up, nothing really quenches our thirstiness such that we do not thirst again – nothing except, Jesus says, the One who can bring forth water from the rock, the One who is Living Water himself. We can uproot ourselves in constant search for the next fad, the next trend, the next thing that promises to bring us happiness – but ultimately these will leave us only more shriveled up than before unless we seek the satisfaction that comes from God.

Friends, the drought in eastern Africa is a tragic situation. Next week, we will have a second collection to benefit Catholic Relief Services, and I hope you will be moved to give alms generously to this worthy cause. But as dire as that need is, you and I can’t ignore our own dire need as well. Jesus invites each of us in this season of Lent, just as he invited the Samaritan woman, to find in him the fulfillment of the desire of our hearts, the One who wishes to encounter us, to enter into relationship with us, and to offer us a chance to start anew. Let us drink deeply of the life and love that only Christ can give.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dismissing the Devil

Throughout the liturgical year, our readings tend to revolve around Biblical figures who inspire us: Jesus, of course, most often; Mary, at times; sometimes Peter, sometimes Paul, sometimes an Old Testament figure, like Moses, or Elijah, or Isaiah. Interestingly, though, the readings for this First Sunday of Lent seem to center around a much more unpleasant figure: that of Satan.

The figure of Satan in the Bible is portrayed in a few different ways. But his most prominent role is how he is described in the Book of Revelation: as “the Deceiver.” In my time as a priest, I’ve found that people typically tend to make one of two mistakes when thinking about the devil. Sometimes, we can be unreasonably interested in him, either too curious or too afraid. When I attended Saint Louis University, the fourth floor of the main administrative building was reportedly the site of the exorcism which later inspired the famous movie of the 1970’s. A few of my friends were inordinately fascinated by the story; the rest of us were too fearful to even venture up to the offices on that floor that we needed to visit! Being overly curious or overly fearful about the devil is not healthy for anyone.

More commonly, though, I think many of us pay the devil little mind. For all practical purposes, we don’t think much about him. Some of us might even be tempted to dismiss him as a fanciful notion – a sort of imaginary construct that we humans have invented to explain our own weaknesses and evils. But the Scriptures are clear – the devil is real, and he is our Enemy, because he seeks to divorce us from God.

In today’s first reading, Satan preys upon the desire of Adam and Eve to be “like gods,” that is, not only to know good and evil but to determine what was good and evil for themselves. This great deception causes their Fall, and ours as well, introducing sin and death into the world. In a certain sense, every sin that tempts us is a repetition of their sin. For whether it is pride or anger or lust or greed, or whatever else, when we sin we say, “I know what is best for me better than God does” – indeed, we say, “I know that this is better for me than God.”

When we sin, we are deceived, just as Adam and Eve were deceived, and the devil seems to have won. But as Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, the devil may win a battle here and there, but he’s lost the overall war. For while sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, Jesus has brought into the world the gift of God’s forgiveness. By taking upon himself our sins and by his total obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus undoes the curse of Adam and takes away the power of sin.

In the Gospel, Jesus shows us how to resist the devil’s deceptions. The aim of temptation is always to believe something that is untrue, namely, that God will not care for us in some particular way. Satan offers to Jesus three things that appear good – to satisfy his physical hunger after 40 days, to be cared for by the angels of heaven, to be honored by all the world. But Jesus resists each of these things, not because they are bad in themselves but because they are founded in the notion that his heavenly Father will not provide for him. The same is true with our own temptations – we are led to believe that God won’t satisfy our desires or provide for our greatest need.

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain (c. 1311), Duccio di Buoninsegna

At the heart of temptation, at the base of any sin, is a fundamental lack of trust in God. Jesus did not sin because he was utterly confident in his Father’s love and providence, just as we must be. The deepest desire of our heart is to participate in the divinity that Adam and Eve desired – but the way to reach that is not by grasping for it, as they did, but by receiving it from a God who desires to give it to us as a gift. Like Jesus, we must realize that our deepest longing is not for food or honor or power or any material thing, but for God himself. Echoing the trust in our heavenly Father that Jesus showed, which gives us the knowledge of his love that we most deeply desire, we can orient ourselves in such a way that no temptation attracts us.

What does this mean practically? When we are tempted, first, we must recognize the fact. Jesus did not deny Satan’s presence; similarly, we must say, “I am being tempted now by pride or anger or lust or jealousy,” or whatever it is. That’s the first step. The next is to immediately turn to God – perhaps in vocal prayer, perhaps by Scripture, perhaps by meditating upon God’s presence. Bringing the Lord into the midst of our temptation, we can see the deception of the sin. Finally, we have to choose to grace over the temptation, saying with Jesus, “Get away, Satan!” No temptation is not also accompanied by a grace from God needed to resist.

Friends, though it may at times seem so, the devil is not the central character in anything – not our readings for today and not in our spiritual lives. He is always only a background figure, a foil – one who can deceive us about God’s love, but who offers nothing on his own in return. Jesus, on the other hand, has confronted and defeated Satan, and if we respond to temptation as he did – with a fundamental trust in God – then the devil has no power that can harm us. This Lent, let us open ourselves to responding to temptation in the way that Jesus has shown us to do – with faith in God, with fidelity in what he teaches, with trust in what he promises.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sculpted by the Tools of God

Portrait of a Sculptor (c. 1625), Daniele Crespi

One of the great privileges of being able to travel or live abroad is the chance to see famous works of art firsthand. When I lived in Italy for four years during my seminary training, I had the chance to travel to see many of the greatest artistic masterpieces in history: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Maybe the most amazing work that I saw in my time in Europe though was Michelangelo’s famous sculpture David in Florence. It’s famous not only for its flawless depiction of the male form but also because it was made from a single piece of marble twice rejected by other sculptors as inferior. Supposedly, when Michelangelo was asked how he fashioned such a tremendous sculpture, he stated that it wasn’t very hard; he simply chipped away all the marble that did not fit David’s form.

This Lent, I would say that God wishes to do something very similar with us. We recognize that the world is not as it should be, and the road to change must begin with us. Like flawed pieces of marble, we recognize our faults and our inferiorities, but we also know that – like Michelangelo – the divine artist nonetheless sees something of value within us, a master work ready to be unveiled. Lent offers us the chance to be better interiorly so that we can start to build a better world exteriorly.

In the Gospel we heard, Jesus instructs his disciples on how to pray, fast, and give alms in the right way. In telling them how to do these things, he makes a certain presumption – that we should do them. The secular mindset of today rejects these suggestions of self-improvement – it scorns the notion that we need to pray and fast and give to the poor. But you and I understand that we are not perfect; indeed, we are flawed and in need of further fashioning, and in this Lenten season, God chooses these tools by which to make us more as he wishes us to be.

In the hand of God, the penitential practices of Lent can have real effect. Think of prayer and fasting as a kind of hammer and chisel to our souls. They work together to detach us from things which are good (or at least not bad) in and of themselves – material things like food and drink, television, social media – so that we can strive to live more for the greatest good, which is God. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that our prayer should be devout and not showy, not so much secretive as concentrated on God and not on being observed by others. Even more, these practices – especially fasting – should be joyful. We miss the entire point if we focus on what we’re giving up and how hard it is and not on the fact that we are creating more space in our lives for the very one for whom our hearts have been created.

If prayer and fasting are like hammer and chisel, then perhaps almsgiving is like a file or a rasp, which smooth out our rough edges to even greater perfection. Almsgiving – that is, the giving of money to the needy, whether to a church, to a friend in need, to a charitable organization which legitimately helps the poor – forces us to focus not on ourselves but on another. Prayer and fasting are good practices, but if we do them alone, we can still become too wrapped up in ourselves, perhaps even bordering on a self-focused pride about our own spiritual growth. Helping the poor and the needy forces us to come out of our own little worlds and find Christ in those who are less fortunate.

So what are some practical ways that we can allow the Lord to use these penitential tools in this season of Lent?

· For prayer, consider starting your day or ending your day (or both) with a brief prayer. In the morning, you can offer to God all the things that you’re going to experience that day, both good and bad, and say a Hail Mary so that Mary can help you to do that. In the evening, call to mind where God was present to you throughout that day, and where you responded to him and where you didn’t, and say an Act of Contrition for all of your sins.

· For fasting, consider giving something up beyond coffee or chocolate. What if you were to do something like go vegetarian for the whole of Lent? Or, for those who are of age, no booze? Maybe the thing that many of us most need to fast from is our constant to desire to have a screen in front of our face. Think about abstaining from social media two days a week, or giving up television until all of your other responsibilities for the day (including prayer time) are taken care of. I guarantee you will have a deeper sense of God’s presence in your life.

· For almsgiving, consider donating beyond the usual charity that you always fall back upon. If you’re a student, perhaps you can save the money on the pizza you might buy on Friday night and put it in the collection basket on Sunday morning? Or if you really want to make a difference to a worthy charity, take home a Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl this Sunday, keep it during Lent, and bring it back before Easter. That money will go to support relief and humanitarian efforts being done by the US Catholic Church (being done in your name) in the poorest countries in the world.

You might take these suggestions, or you might have some ideas of your own. Remember that whatever you do, these penances of fasting, prayer, and giving alms are not ends in themselves – they are merely steps along the path of spiritual growth that God has for each of us.

David, detail (c. 1504), Michelangelo Buonarroti

Friends, this Lent, Jesus invites us to travel with him: not on a journey abroad – to encounter works of art made by others – but on a journey within – to encounter the work of art that he is forming us to be. He is the artist and we are the masterpiece. This season, let us open ourselves to the tools of his transformation, so that by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving Jesus might create each of us, more and more, to be his perfect image in the world.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Relying Upon a God Who Provides

Jan Luyken, Sermon on the Mount engraving (c. 1712), Philip Medhurst Collection

Philosophers have long debated how exactly humans are different from animals. Through the centuries they have arrived at numerous ways that we are different than the rest of creation, most of them related to the fact that we have eternal souls. This is expressed in many of our positive qualities: introspection, reason, love for the other. But there are also some ways we are different from animals that are more negative. One of the most common is the fact that we worry.

Outside of immediate physical danger, animals don’t worry about very much. Jesus points that out in the Gospel today when he draws his listeners’ attention to the birds of the air. They exist without any assurance of tomorrow, without any plans for living beyond the present moment; and yet, as Jesus says, God provides for them. Contrast that to us humans. We seemingly never stop planning and preparing, ordering and reordering our lives, and above all else worrying about how we are going to meet all that is demanded of us.

We do this because we know we have to. And yet as we heard, Jesus tells us: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself.” That is a strange command, perhaps even unreasonable. Of course, we have to contextualize what Jesus is really saying. He is certainly not telling parents to not plan for the future of their children, or students to not prepare for tomorrow’s exam. Instead, he’s encouraging us to not let ourselves be so consumed by anxiety such that we forget what the birds of the air know: that God will provide.

There are certainly things in life that cause us anxiety. We need only watch the news, read the headlines, or think about whatever personal or family struggle we might have currently to remember that: a child diagnosed with cancer, a wife who has lost her husband, a friend who is suffering in a profound way. These things not only create anxiety – they hurt, we suffer because of them. In light of them, Jesus’s message of “Don’t worry, God will provide” can ring hollow. 

But remember who is speaking – Jesus speaks to us not just from his human nature, but from his divine one as well. That is, he is speaking to us as God, telling us that he will care for us. Even more, Jesus backs up his words with action. The Sermon on the Mount from which we’ve been hearing the last several weeks is the master plan for the kingdom of God, but it is the ministry of Jesus that ushers that kingdom in. In his encounters with people, Jesus brought to them the presence of God, giving them a tangible experience of how God does provide – with accompaniment, with healing, with mercy. On Calvary, Jesus proved the depth of God’s desire to provide for us in an eternal way, by taking upon himself the weight of our sin and death so that we can share in his abundant life. And Christ continues to encounter you and me, as well, assisting us each day with his own strength, especially through the sacraments.

The knowledge that God does indeed provide for us – that, as Isaiah says, he could no more forget us than a mother could forget her child – does not of course take away our problems. The things that cause us anxiety are still there, whether it’s that upcoming exam or the family strife or the personal struggle. But Jesus assures us, with word and action, that God walks with us in these challenges, aiding us with his strength and guiding us in his paths. We need only seek him first – seek his kingdom and its righteousness, in the words of Christ – then the heavenly Father provides the rest.

Friends, God has indeed made us different than the rest of creation in many ways – but the most important of them is our ability to come to know him, to have a relationship with our Creator, to trust in the one who has redeemed us in Christ, and the one who cares for us through the Spirit each day. On the Cross, Jesus showed us the depth of God’s desire to enter into even the most terrible part of our reality so that he might redeem it from within. As Christians, that redemption should allow us to be different than the rest of the world, allowing us to labor for today and leave tomorrow to God. Though challenges and anxieties remain, we have a foundation of hope underneath, believing that God has provided and will provide for our every need. He has promised that, and God is true to his promises.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Obeying God's Commands

If you’ve ever been in charge of kids for even a brief time – whether as a parent, a teacher, or a babysitter – you’ve probably heard yourself utter that familiar phrase, “Do it, because I said so!” Telling someone (whether a kid or an adult) to do something “because I said so,” is not honestly a very good justification, but nonetheless we resort to it from time to time. It would seem that sometimes we don’t know how exactly to put into words what we know to be correct – we only know how to demand it.

To be honest, there is a certain way of interpreting the readings for today as God telling humanity exactly that, “Do it, because I said so!” I imagine that’s not the first time or the last time we’ve felt that. Often we seem to receive God’s commands as having no other justification than that they come from him. For example, God tells Moses that he commands, “Do not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart;” “take no revenge and cherish no grudge against anyone;” “love your neighbor as yourself”. What is his reason? “I am the Lord your God.”

Jesus in the Gospel makes more demands: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well; if anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well; give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” And perhaps most challenging?: “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” What is Jesus’s reason: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

All of these and more are difficult commands. They might even seem a little unreasonable, being that they are the opposite of what we often want to do naturally. Perhaps – looking at the commandments of God – we even feel like children being told by a divine parent, “Do it, because I said so!”, with little good reason other than that.

The reality though is very different. Think for a moment about when you’ve been in the position of a parent, a teacher, a babysitter who is faced with dealing with a difficult child. You know that there’s not really much use in trying to reason with a misbehaving kid. You can’t explain why their behavior is not ultimately in their best interest. All you can do is tell them, “Do it, because I said so.”

"Moses and the Ten Commandments," Lorenzo Ghiberti, East Doors of the Baptistery of St. John ("The Gates of Paradise"), Florence, c. 1440

The amazing thing, of course, is that (usually) that’s reason enough. The child seems to understand innately that we really do have their best interest at heart, and thus, “because I said so” is sufficient. Later he or she comes to understand that whatever we were telling them to do really was correct. They realize that things like “Go and clean your room,” “Brush your teeth,” and even more drastic things like, “Don’t play in the street,” and “Don’t touch the hot stove,” are not just our whims in the moment but really are for their own good. So too are the commands of God not just his arbitrary demands; they are always ordered to our highest good.

Friends, when we hear Jesus tell us to “Love your enemy” and “Turn the other cheek,” his words might seem impossible, even foolish. But remember that the wisdom of God is not the wisdom of this world. God never commands us to do something that he does not also give us the grace to fulfill. With our highest good at heart, God empowers us with his Holy Spirit to live as another Jesus in the world. As we approach the altar in this Mass, may we prepare our hearts to do as God commands, so that we might learn to love as he loves, and that we might be holy, perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Using Our Freedom Well

If there is one concept which our polarized society can agree upon, it’s the importance of freedom. Everyone wants to be free, and everyone agrees that being free is a good thing. Our country was founded on such a notion: that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights given to each of us by our Creator.

The problem, of course, is defining what freedom means in practice. Completely unchecked, freedom devolves into lawlessness; without any limits, one person’s free action may impinge upon on the rights of others, preventing them from being free. The founders of our nation understood this. That’s why they worked hard to establish a system of laws, i.e. checks and balances which strive both to promote the general freedom of the individual while also safeguarding the rights of others.

The dynamic between freedom and laws goes beyond the political sphere; it also pertains to the moral life as well. In the Gospel today, Jesus redefines the moral law for the Jewish people. To the amazement of his listeners, he sets himself as a higher authority than the Torah they had received from Moses. In doing so, not only does he once again point to himself as God-made-flesh, he also reveals that morality is not just about exteriors, about actions or omissions that are good and bad. Morality is also about interior, namely what exists within our hearts.

Some voices in our culture today say that traditional religions – for example, Judaism and Christianity, maybe especially Catholicism – are too overly fixated on moral rules and regulations: do this, don’t do that. These voices see all of these requirements as limiting our freedom, being imposed upon us from the exterior as if by a dictator, even if divine. Jesus though sees things very differently. By giving us commandments, indeed even by calling not just to exterior observance but interior adherence, God’s law in fact makes us even more truly free.

How is that possible, you might ask? How is it possible to be more free if we have to follow a law more closely? Remember that I said at the start that the purpose of law in society is two-fold: to allow for individual freedom but to guard us from using that freedom in an improper way. The same is true of the moral law. God’s commandments first are aimed at keeping us from doing that which is truly destructive of the rights of others. Jesus gives us some examples: murder, adultery, falsehood. But God’s law doesn’t stop there – rather than merely allow us to operate indifferently within exterior parameters, it also calls us to be transformed interiorly, to be free, but not just free in whatever way we might say – rather in the truest sense of freedom.

It’s a central principle in the Jewish worldview, just as it is in the Christian one, that God has given to each of us a free will. We are, in short, not robots. To each of us he has given us the freedom to think and act as we determine. But God gives us this free will not to use in whatever way we’d like – a freedom indifferent, you might say, to what is truly good for us. Rather, he gives us freedom for excellence – freedom so that we might freely choose that which is good for us, that which truly fulfills all of our capacity to be good. The moral law, then, is isn’t merely intended to keep us from doing wrong; it’s given to us by God to make us truly excellent.

We see how this plays out practically in the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t just want us not to carry out murder; he wants us to be free from every angry impulse. He doesn’t just want us not to commit adultery; he wants us to be free from every adulterous desire. He doesn’t just want us not to lie; he wants us to be from every impulse to falsehood and deceit, to live completely in the truth.

Now you might say, “Well, that sounds really hard.” On the one hand, you’d be right. It’s certainly not easy. It’s even harder if you give into the thinking of so many today – that every moral law is merely a kind of constrictor, something that binds up our freedom. But I think if we search our hearts, we know that that logic is unsound. We know that when we follow our base impulses – our desires for the four pernicious P’s (Possessions, Pleasure, Power, Prestige) – we end up not free but enslaved. Instead, God gives us his grace to follow an understanding of freedom much different than how our culture understands it.

Harold Copping, The Sermon on the Mount (1922)

Authentic freedom comes when we are able to strive for that which makes us truly flourish, the kind of happiness that comes from fulfilling the nature God has given to us. Take a moment to think about whatever sin you most want to be rid of. Maybe it’s something like Jesus mentioned: anger, lust, untruthfulness. Maybe it’s something else: letting go of a past grudge, being envious of your best friend, trying not to be so consumed with worldly success. Whatever it is, God desires you to be free of that – and not just free from it, but able to be good, to be excellent in the opposite way: generous, faithful, charitable, loving. Through the power of grace that comes to us by being in communion with Christ, we learn how to desire what our Father has created us to desire, to find the moral excellence wherein true freedom lies.

Friends, our first reading today from the Book of Sirach tells us clearly that “if you choose, you can keep the commandments.” Set before us, to use the language of Scripture, are good and evil, life and death. We make the choice. But for us who desire to be as God has created us to be, he does not leave us on our own; rather he assists us with his grace to keep his commandments and so choose what is truly for our own excellence. It is a good thing, indeed, to be free, but let us use our freedom well. If we do so, we may be confident that, “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart,” that indeed is “what God has prepared for those who love him.”