Saint Paul says today “For freedom Christ sets us free”…”for freedom, Christ sets us free”…
In America, this is our Fourth of July week and freedom is something good that we talk about a lot in our country and cherish.
It is important because it’s connected really to what we read here. St. Paul is giving this beautiful explanation in today’s reading about freedom and what it means in a Biblical sense, and of course it applies in our civil sense as well.
St. Paul makes it really clear first of all that freedom is not freedom to do whatever I want. He goes into that and explains that throughout the 2nd reading. it is NOT the ability to do whatever I want.
He’s really clear about that. And if we think about it a little bit, although that notion is out there, in our world and in some places that I’m not truly free unless I get to do whatever I want, most of us realize that freedom is bounded if it really is freedom. There’s going to be limitations. Freedom without limitations is license. That’s not what we mean.
St. Paul is saying it is NOT freedom from the laws of God. He is saying that there is freedom that is found from LIVING them. There are not many words different there, but there is an infinite difference in their meaning. St. Paul is telling us, the Church is teaching us, St. John Paul the 2nd who lived under all kinds of tyrannical governments in different forms, said this over and over again through his pontificate – the TRUE understanding of freedom is not found by living apart from the Laws of God, it is found FROM LIVING them. And that’s what St. Paul is talking about. Freedom in the true sense from living the laws of God that are handed on to me through the Church.
A couple of important notes:
1) The laws of God that are given to us through the Church are not affected at all by government. Let me say that again. The laws that are given to us by God through the Church are not affected by the government; by the “laws of the land.” There have been from the very beginning of the Church through today different governments in different forms, kings, Caesar’s, rulers, comrades, that have sought to rule and legislate and tell the Church what the laws given to it by God ought to be.
And the Church has repeatedly stood up and died in the face of that rather than change, because we can NOT change the laws that are given to us by God through His Church.
2) Another thing: we can try to bring our laws that God has given to us through the Church into government; into the laws of the land. In some places, there have been times where Christians have been very successful at doing that; influence the laws of the land and align them fairly well with the laws God has given us. Our country has been very blessed over its 200 plus years. We live in a place where that has largely been the case. There are other places around the world today where the laws of the land are almost the complete opposite of the laws that God has given us through the Church. So you and I are called to work in the civil realm, we’re not called to just come here and pray and then leave our Faith at the door. We’re called to try to do what we can to gather other people, to help convince, sway, bring other people with us, explain to them why the laws of God ought to be brought into the laws of the land. We are allowed to do that.
But the government has never and will never be able to tell us what the Laws of God are, because they are laws of God, not laws that change.
So this idea of freedom, to come back to that. Freedom comes from following those laws and living them, not from ignoring them or walking away from them.
I’d just like to share a brief example here at the end. I was asked, at the beginning of the summer, to help coach a little league baseball team. There are some parishioners on the team, but there wasn’t enough coaches to go around. So I’ve been coaching little league baseball on Saturday mornings throughout this summer, and it has been a blast.
The very first time I showed up they were running to first and stopping, and I was telling the kids to keep running, but then the kids would say “we stop at first”. And I was talking to the people who run the league who said they’ve been bringing the kids along slowly. And I remember that is how it went with my baseball when I was little.
It takes a long time! It is a gradual process. And over time we learn those laws. And in the same way for us it takes us a long time to learn the laws of God. We spend time in prayer, maybe we were raised in the Faith, we learn the rules over time, we learn the rules God has given and we decide if we are going to incorporate them into our lives or not.
To wrap up the analogy, this afternoon I was watching the Yankees and Red Sox. There was such a freedom and a beauty to the game. There always is with professional sports. Women’s soccer is going on right now in the World Cup…there’s a beauty to watching professionals play and the beauty comes precisely from the fact that they all recognize the rules and live them. They’ve all accepted them. And because they’ve lived them so long and practiced so much and have lived those rules and have worked on every little single element of that game for their entire live, there is a freedom that comes from that. Because they all recognize and know what they are doing.
Yeah they were arguing with the ump over strike calls, and that kind of thing, “no he was safe” or “no he was out” but they weren’t arguing about whether we should have outs at all. No one was saying is “you know what I think we should do is have SEVEN strikes!” They were arguing over little details, but they all knew the rules. Precisely when the rules are followed, embraced, understood, and lived, beautiful things happen in the wake of that.
And it is the same for us. And that’s what St. Paul was trying to say, it is what John Paul the Second was trying to say, and what countless other saints were trying to say. Encouraging us “Take these laws of the Church and LIVE them. Take them and live them and you will find freedom. The freedom that comes from beautiful things.”
The beauty that comes from following the laws of God is not a nice baseball game, it is sainthood. It is a holy life that is not able to be destroyed by suffering, not able to be destroyed by pain, or any other thing, not the government or any other external whatever.
The beauty that comes from following the laws of God and internalizing them and living them day in and day out is the beauty of a life well-lived – sainthood.
We pray that we might hear St. Paul’s call to us; an invitation to live the laws of God, and thus to find the freedom that He promises.