Wednesday July 4, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Isaiah 57:15-19) Gospel (St. John 14:23-29)
Today, as our country takes time to celebrate Independence Day we need to ask ourselves what this really means. For most Americans, we think of "independence" as meaning "I can do whatever I want. I am not dependent on anyone." Unfortunately, in the minds of many Americans these days that includes God. We think, somehow, that we are not dependent on God and that "freedom" means we do not have to follow any rules, we can make our own rules, and we can do whatever we want. But it does not work that way. We can never be independent of God.
In fact, we hear in the first reading precisely what happens if we are. The Lord tells us: "Because of their wicked avarice I was angry, and struck them, hiding Myself in wrath, as they went their own rebellious way." I think if we looked around our society today, we could say that fits America pretty well - those who are caught in avarice, and those who go their own rebellious way. That is not freedom, nor is it independence. That is the tragedy. We need to understand what this really means. Freedom and independence do not mean "I can do whatever I want. I do not have to follow God's rules. I do not have to do what the Lord wants me to do." We think that is going to bring peace, but what it brings instead is exactly the opposite. It brings total chaos and anarchy. It brings disorder into a world and that is what we suffer with today.
But for Christians, as we come together today and we celebrate this feast, we recognize that what is ours is the true freedom of the children of God. We recognize that what is ours is independence from the devil and from his way so that we can do things God's way. It is not throwing off the yoke of God, which the Lord tells us is light and easy; but rather, it is throwing off the yoke of sin so that we are no longer slaves to sin but we have the freedom to do God's Will. That is what true freedom is. It is independence from the oppressor and God is never oppressive.
Remember that it is God Himself who gave us free will. God, in His love for us, will always treat us according to that freedom He has given to us. He will not even violate that if we choose to use our freedom against Him, if we choose to use our freedom in a way that it was not intended to be used. What God wants is for us to use the freedom that He gave us in the right way: to choose what is just, to choose what is right, to choose what is going to bring about the greatest good. He wants us to use our freedom to choose love. In this way, we can actually use our freedom to choose to be dependent on God.
If we want to think that we can be independent of God, He will allow us to walk our own way. That is what we hear in the first reading: "They went their own rebellious way." But thanks be to Him, He tells us that He saw their ways and He will heal them and lead them, He will give them full comfort. That is what we are looking for - true life, true comfort, and true peace. The Lord tells us in the Gospel that the peace He gives is a peace the world cannot give. The world can give an external kind of peace. It can give a sense of peace to the body. As we look around America for all the pleasures and comforts we say, "Well, now that I can settle back in my big over-stuffed chair, my body can have a sense of peace." But that is not the peace that the Lord gives. The peace of Jesus is in the soul, it is in the heart; it is a spiritual peace. That is the peace that we all really desire.
In order to have that peace, it means that we have to know true freedom. True freedom is doing God's Will in all things because God's Will is always what is perfect and what is best. It never violates us, even in the slightest manner; but is that which will uphold our dignity and perfect our dignity. When we are being treated with dignity and we are acting according to our dignity, then we will have peace. The only way that will happen is if our prayer life is in order, we are following the commandments of God, and we make ourselves independent of ourselves and of the devil so that we can be completely dependent on God. It is to die to self in order to live for the other. That is where true freedom and independence come.
So for us as Catholic people, as we celebrate with the country this day of our Declaration of Independence, this day where we celebrate freedom from oppression, we need to understand it in a spiritual way and be able to apply it in a deeper way, in a way that the world cannot apply it. But in the way that only a Christian person can - in the way of Jesus Christ. Not externally, but internally to know true freedom, to know true independence, and to know the true peace that only Jesus Christ can give.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.