HOMILY – July 4, 2021

On the Fourth of July we celebrate something near and dear to us Americans:  freedom, or, as our Founding Fathers described it, liberty.  After the most fundamental human right—the right to life—comes the human right to liberty.

Liberty (or freedom) is an essential right of every human being.  Freedom is something that is part of our human make-up.  Without freedom, we are less than human.  And without freedom, we cannot faithfully live the moral life that God calls us to.

This life that God calls us to:  what is its foundation?  The Church teaches us that the “dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God.”[1]  We heard this at Mass last Sunday, in the Reading from the Book of Wisdom, which proclaims that “…God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature, he made him.”[2]

This simply echoes what we hear in the beginning”, in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis:  that God created man—male and female He created them—in the Image and Likeness of God.  This image and likeness is the root not only of human dignity in general; but also of Christian morality.

Because only if you believe that you—as an individual—are created in the Image and Likeness of God, will you be able to live out that inner, personal morality that is based on the virtues.  And only if you believe that each and every person you meet—whether you particularly care for that person or not—is also created in the Image and Likeness of God, will you be able to faithfully live out the demands of social morality.  And only if you grow in your love of God, will you step closer each day towards that final goal of eternal happiness, where we might see God face-to-face.[3]

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True human freedom is necessary for living our lives in the Image and Likeness of God.  But it’s possible to think about freedom in two very different ways.  We can talk¾on the one hand¾about “freedom from” something, or we can talk¾on the other hand¾about “freedom to do” something.  Consider an example:  when we celebrate Independence Day, we are celebrating the day on which the United States declared their “freedom from” England.  Our Founding Fathers declared that the people of our land were free from the repressive government of King George III.  This type of freedom—“freedom from”—always demands a separation from an other.  Our Revolutionary War took place in order to ensure the separation of our nation from England.  This is the freedom that we call “independence”.

But our Founding Fathers knew that independence—that is, separation, “freedom from” another—is neither the be all and end all of life, nor the be all and end all of freedom.  The Founding Fathers also declared that the people of our land were free to exercise the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In a similar way, as a child grows older, and gets closer to the day when he leaves home, he looks forward to having his freedom (which means, in his mind, not being tied to his parents anymore:  that is, having independence).  In one sense, this is a natural stage of development.  But it usually takes some time in life to recognize that freedom doesn’t only mean being separated from others.  Independence is just the means to a greater end.  Independence makes it possible to enjoy the freedom—the capacity—to grow in order to serve others. 

It’s in this second sense that freedom is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, and to make moral choices as a Christian.

Today’s Gospel Reading, like last week’s, doesn’t really end on a high note.  We hear that, in his native place, Jesus was not able to perform any mighty deed, apart from curing a few sick people….  He was amazed at their lack of faith.”  So what’s going on here?  Surely it’s not as if these people robbed Jesus of His divine power.  Why did their lack of faith make it so that Jesus wasn’t able to perform any mighty deed?

What the Gospel Reading today proclaims is that God’s love for us is absolute.  God respects our freedom absolutely.  He does so in a way which can be hard for us to understand.  Normally, for us, drawing closer to someone else means coming under the other person’s control, something from which part of us flinches.  We usually believe that you can’t draw closer to another, without your freedom being taken away in some measure.

In fact, our most base instinct (which of course is false) tells us that freedom means only “freedom from” others:  separation from others.  This base instinct tries to convince us to stay stuck in the adolescent stage of growth.  It’s only natural that the first several years of human life are spent in that gradual process of separation from others, of growing more independent.  Unfortunately, some people spend their entire lives pursuing only this “freedom from”.  They see independence as the be all and end all of freedom, instead of a means to an end:  a means to a more profound type of freedom.  So as they spend their lives separating themselves from others, where do they end their lives?  They end their lives in isolation.

Christian freedom is something unique.  The union between a human being and God doesn’t mean being absorbed by God, or being controlled by Him.  At every step of our journey towards God, we are fully free:  free to accept God, and free to reject Him.  So ask Him this week for His grace, to accept Him more fully, in order to serve Him more fully, by loving Him, loving all our neighbors, and loving ourselves in an authentic, selfless way.

[1] CCCC 358.

[2] Wisdom 2:23-24.

[3] cf. 2 Peter 1:4, in CCCC 362.

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