Thursday July 4, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Amos 7:10-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:1-8)
Today as our country takes time to celebrate our independence, we need to ask ourselves what this freedom that we are celebrating really is because over the course of the past few years, and particularly since last September, we have watched many of those freedoms that we have taken so much for granted be taken from us. But it was done in a rather interesting way: We asked for it. The media convinced the people of America that it would be a very good thing to beg the government to take away the freedoms we have always had. They happily obliged, and they have many more in store coming very soon to this country. As Mr. Bush has made clear, he is about to embark on a new Homeland Security Act that will employ 79,000 people. As it is advertised, they will be watching everything from airspace and airplanes to highways, bridges, and supermarkets. They will be able to take away any of the freedoms we are accustomed to.
Now this all sounds very negative, but it is very important to be able to ask the question: What really is the freedom that we ought to be celebrating? There is a freedom which no one can take from us, that is, the freedom of our will - and it is the freedom to serve God. There is no greater freedom than the one we hear of in the Gospel reading today, that is, freedom from sin. Jesus looked at the paralytic and He said, "Your sins are forgiven you." Nothing is greater than that freedom, to be freed from the bonds of death, to be freed from the jaws of hell, to have our sins forgiven so that we can go to Heaven. There is nothing that is greater than that.
And no matter what kind of external freedoms may be taken away, no one, absolutely no one, can take away your free will. God will not take away your free will. The devil does not have the authority to take away your free will. The government cannot take away your free will. Nobody can take your free will. You can freely give it up, but no one can take it from you. That is a gift which God has given and it is an irrevocable gift. It is yours and you may choose to do with it what you will.
Now, God also has a free will and He has chosen to create us in His own image and likeness. He has given to each one of us a task to perform on this earth. And He teaches us that the greatest freedom, as far as the way we live our lives, is to do the Will of God. Anybody in any country, in any place - somebody in a Communist prison camp in China - would be able to do the same thing. A person in the most horrendous of situations, externally, still has free will and can still freely choose to do the Will of God at every moment of every single day. That is the gift God has offered to us.
Saint Paul asks the question about this freedom, and he makes sure he tells us that it is not a freedom to sin. It is not a freedom of license, but rather, it is a freedom to be able to excel. It is a freedom to choose what is right and to do the Will of God in all things. We can look at some people who have lived this life. Because they chose to exercise this freedom in the fullest capacity, they paid for it with their lives. All of the martyrs chose to use this freedom that God gave to them to truly serve God and to pour themselves out in love for the people around them. There were others who were terrified by the freedom they saw these people exercising, and sought to put them to death. But even that could not remove their freedom; they freely chose to die for Jesus Christ.
When we look at all of the things that we, as Americans, hold to be near and dear to us, we need to look a step deeper and look at what God has created in us from the first moment of our conception. He gave to each one of us a free will. And He gave to each one of us the capacity to make a free choice every single day and every single moment of every single day. The choice of whether we are going to do God's Will or whether we are going to do it some other way, whether it is our own way or the way that somebody else tells us to do, we have that choice. But we have the choice and the freedom to be able to act in accordance with the fullness of God's freedom to do what God wants of us everyday. That is being offered to us and cannot be taken away. That is cause for rejoicing: freedom from sin and freedom to serve God.
No matter what the circumstances politically or externally may be, that is still a freedom that we have. Even if somebody - as they have tried to do in some of the Communist countries - tries to say, "You do not have the freedom to exercise your religion, to practice your faith," they still cannot take it away. They might be able to take away the external practice of it. The Communists, for instance, in many countries closed all the churches and destroyed them but they could not take away the freedom of the will of the people to believe in Jesus Christ and to serve Him in freedom all the days of their lives. We must keep that in mind as we go forward because no matter what happens this is the freedom that we must celebrate above all else: that we have the free choice to serve God and to choose the Lord, that we have freedom from sin, and that we have freedom from death. In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, death has no power over us and we can look death right in the face because we know that we have life in Jesus Christ. Nothing that most people would be afraid of has any power over us if we are truly one in Christ. That is the freedom we need to celebrate.
So, yes, we celebrate the freedoms that our country offers to us but we, as Christian people, recognize an even greater freedom. We rejoice in Almighty God for granting us that freedom, the freedom that He gave us as a gift of love, the free will that He gave us to serve Him, to love Him, and the freedom from sin and death which is ours in Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.