Saturday, June 30, 2007

Do you want to be free?


We have a friar in our community named Brother Damian. Now, if you ever met him, he is one of the most fun, gregarious and outgoing people you could ever be around. He will laugh at anything and even nothing at all, but once he begins, he has a laugh that is so contagious that I can’t imagine anyone being able to resist laughing along. I was thinking yesterday about a particular encounter with Brother Damian. As you know, as a Franciscan, we wear our brown Franciscan robe with a white cord tied around the waist. On the cord are three knots which represent the three vows that we, as religious, take – the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. However, in this particular encounter with Brother Damian, he was walking around twirling his cord around and pointing to the knots said, “Do you know what these represent?” “Of course,” I answered, “They represent poverty, chastity and obedience.” “Wrong,” Brother Damian responded, “They represent No money, No honey and No Say!”

This weekend through Wednesday, the Fourth of July, we are wrapped up in celebrations both of our town’s 300th anniversary and of course, our nation’s independence. And, so with these celebrations in mind, and particularly with the current state of affairs in the world, I think I minds tend to thoughts about freedom. The freedom so bravely declared in that Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the freedom that we try to continue to preserve today. At this time of year, I always take a few moments to read the Declaration of Independence slowly, word for word. How can you not be moved by words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

How appropriate then that today we have yet another reflection on the nature of freedom from St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. But, St. Paul offers an understanding of freedom more comprehensive, profound and challenging than any Fourth of July orator is likely to provide. St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free;so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;rather, serve one another through love.” And this is where it gets interesting.

According to St. Paul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been freed from something and for something – freed from the dominion of sin, death and the flesh, and freed for life in the Spirit. This is the type of freedom that is worth something; this is the type of freedom that makes life worth living.

Too often, we define freedom very narrowly. Freedom means I can do what I want; or anything goes. Freedom in this way is a freedom from – and while perhaps it is good to not be constrained, it really doesn’t help us discover who we are, what we are called to, what we can be. St. Paul reminds us that through our Baptism, in Christ, the freedom that He won for us on the cross is not merely a freedom from some sort of oppression, but more powerfully it is a freedom for the world. It is a freedom that calls us to be something great.

This brings us back to poverty, chastity and obedience – remember, No Money, No Honey, No Say. In the vows we see exactly the kind of freedom for Christ that St. Paul envisions. In the vow of poverty, we see the freedom to not be concerned with high paying jobs, acquiring material goods, power, status and instead be completely free to be where Jesus and the Church needs us. In the vow of chastity, we see the freedom that instead of being a loving presence to one spouse, we embrace the freedom to be God’s loving presence to all of His people. And in the vow of obedience, we become free to not be preoccupied with our own will and our own desires, but to move with the freedom of the wind in the ways that God calls us through the Church.

While the way we live out these vows is particular to someone who is a religious or a priest, the idea and the freedom behind them is there for everyone. St. Paul said, “Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We see how heavy and pervasive this yoke of slavery is in our world today. How many people are yoked so strongly to their desire to make money and acquire material that they ignore their fundamental relationship with God and even with their own families? How many people are yoked so strongly to the over sexualized culture of today that they worship all things sexual and deny the beauty and sanctity of every created person? How many people today are yoked so strongly to their own will, their own way that they trample right over those in front of them through lies, deceit, gossip and control?

As we mark our nation’s freedom, and our town’s heritage, let us be reminded that God is calling us to something greater – the most radical freedom ever seen in this world. “For freedom Christ set us free…you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters…serve one another through love.”

My brothers and sisters, you were called for freedom. Do you want to be free?

May God give you peace and true freedom.

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