If we look a little closer under the surface of today’s readings from Sacred Scripture, we find people struggling with the Truth of God’s Word, control, and freedom. Interestingly enough, these are the three things humans have struggled with from the dawn of time, since Adam and Eve, and we still struggle with them today, eons later.
In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel was being prepared by God to call the Israelites back to the Truth of his Word. They were being held in slavery by the Babylonians and were planning yet another revolt against their captors, and Ezekiel was being sent to tell them that they would never be free from their captivity, their slavery, until they returned to the ways of the Lord God.
In a glimpse of how the urge to control, or the urge for power can corrupt people against the wisdom of God’s Word, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, returns home and teaches in the synagogue. While admitting to the wisdom of his words and acknowledging his mighty works, you can imagine that there were those who had not left home as Jesus had, who had attained a degree of power and control in the town and in the synagogue and didn’t want to relinquish it, even when they heard the Truth.
In the second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians that three times he prayed to be set free from a “thorn in the flesh” that he was afflicted with. But he came to understand that it is his weaknesses that keep him humble; his weaknesses that allow the power of Christ to dwell in him. Now, we don’t know if they were spiritual weaknesses or physical weaknesses, but he realizes that without them, it would be easy to for him to fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement and self-righteousness, leaving God out of the picture entirely. When we allow the power of Christ to dwell in us, that is, when we become one with the mind of Christ and the will of God, then we’re truly free.
The past week we celebrated the 4th of July, which, as we all know, is a celebration of freedom. And you would think, that after 224 years, Americans of all people, young and old, would be able to define freedom in a logical, sensible way.
If I simply asked various people: “when do you feel the most free?”, I’d get a variety of answers.
“When I finished school.” “When I moved out of my parents house.” “When I’m on vacation, or driving my car or motorcycling, or flying my airplane or skydiving.” But of course, these are only illusions of freedom, illusions of control over our lives. That motorcycle can still break down and when we move out of the house, then we’re forced to work to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. These things give us a feeling of freedom but they don’t really make us free.
Others might say that our constitutional right to freedom gives us the power to do whatever we want. Some people would go as far as to say that to be truly free we must indulge any and every of our passions. They’d say that anything that doesn’t permit us to indulge our passions is a hindrance to freedom; religion for instance, particularly the Catholic religion. This type of thought has been around for a long, long time. And even though it has been proven again and again throughout history that free indulgence of our passions inevitably leads to slavery to those same passions and control over us by those who control our passions, we still haven’t learned.
Probably the most recent example was the “sexual liberation” of the 60’s. Contraception was the ticket that was going to give women more control over their bodies. Men and women would be free to indulge in their sexual passions without having to worry about those “nasty little babies.” Now what do we have? Higher rates of infertility in multi-partner,contracepting women when they finally do decide to have babies. A higher divorce rate, partly due to the fact that one of the things that kept even marginally religious married men faithful to their spouses prior to the 60’s was the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. Now there was nothing to stop them from indulging in their passions. And finally, when contraceptive controls don’t work, we turn to the ultimate bit of control and pseudo-freedom - abortion. 40 some million abortions since 1973. By the way, today at 1:00, Bishop Zubic will be here to help dedicate the memorial to the unborn outside of the church and you’re all welcome to join us.
So what is this right to freedom that we celebrate? Freedom is not the power to do what we like, but the right to being able to choose to do what we ought to do. That’s what we celebrate.
So that begs the question: “What ought we to do?”
Eternal Lawis the “mind of God.” It is everything as God intends it to be. Now, every created thing participates in the mind of God, that is, everything acting according to its nature. (dogs bark, birds sing, etc., etc.) So we can say that there is a bit of the mind of God in every created thing.
As human beings, as creatures, we also participate in the Eternal Law, but in a different way - not by instinct - but by free and rational choices, according to our Natural Freedom, given to us by God. Natural Freedom is our free will/ the freedom of choice/ our capacity to choose. For Thomas Aquinas, the dignity of our human nature arises from our rational choice to participate in the eternal law. To be able to choose to participate in the mind of God, to participate in the way he meant for things to be when he created them. Our willing participation is known as Natural Law.
What we have to remember here is that God is the origin of the “good” (as well as the final goal of all of our choices) and our freedom isn’t the freedom to do whatever we want, but our freedom to either choose the good that’s a participation in the mind of God, or the evil that opposes it.
Our goal is to gain the same kind of freedom that God has. God has the ability to naturally and spontaneously choose that which is good - in accord with truth. That’s the kind of freedom we strive for. But this natural freedom is not necessarily about the ability to choose - it’s about the ability to be; to be good, virtuous, compassionate. We are striving to get to the point where there is no need to choose.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: 'the more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to ‘slavery of sin.’” An example would be patience - and growth in patience; it gets easier and more natural the more we practice it.
One of the effects of sin is that it can clouds man’s reason when it comes to discerning the mind of God. In order to make it easier for man to discern the good God gave us the 10 Commandments.
So even though what we celebrated last week is our right of freedom to choose as we ought, freedom to choose the good, our goal is a higher freedom, God’s freedom, where we choose the good without even thinking about it. Giving up our urge for control so we can participate in life the way God meant life to be.