04 July 2012

Freedom from, freedom to. . .

NB.  I always get the Mass readings from the USCCB website. . .they didn't have the readings for today's votive Mass on the site, so I didn't know that there were any votive readings!  It's the bishops' fault!

13 Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Two hundred and thirty-six years ago today, the Founders of our republic signed the Declaration of Independence, in which they invoke the “Laws of Nature and Nature's God,” “their Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the world,” and “Divine Providence” in order to separate the British colonies of America from the rule of Britain's king, and to declare themselves a people thus freed from tyranny. Having declared that God created man with “certain unalienable Rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” the signers catalogue the King's offenses against these natural rights, dissolve all political connections with Crown, and proclaim the colonies “Free and Independent States.” From this moment, the United States began as an civic experiment: a constitutional republic guided by a definition of freedom forged and tempered in 18th century Europe. To be free in America and to be free in Christ are not the same sort of freedom. However, the best possible way to be free in Christ is to be free in America. As Americans, we are “free from” any number of tyrannical restraints. As Christians, we are “free to” follow Christ along his path to holiness. 

The signers of the Declaration of Independence declared the colonies “free from” unjust laws, burdensome taxes, foreign military interventions, and the arbitrary will of a king so that the citizens of the colonies might be “free to” pursue the life, the liberties, and the happiness granted to them by their Creator. As a fundamental document of the American revolution, the Declaration continues to teach us what it means to be free citizens of a free nation. However, the rousing patriotic rhetoric of a political document cannot free a single human soul from the chains of sin. Take, for example, the gospel reading this morning. Matthew tells us that two demon possessed individuals haunted a cemetery, and that they “were so savage that no one could travel by that road.” The way was blocked by the Enemy, the adversary of freedom through Christ. No edict of the king, or imperial warrant from Rome would clear the way for travelers. Jesus removes the demons, freeing those souls from the burden of sin. The way is cleared by Christ so that we are free to follow him. And we are at our freest when we follow him in the pursuit of holiness. We are freest when we pursue that state of perfection in Christ that we were created to achieve. 

In the past few months we have heard a great deal about religious freedom, the right to practice our religion, and the continuing efforts of our government to restrict or abolish these rights and freedoms. You might think that this is a demonic plot against the Church, or a convenient political ploy to get votes, or a necessary limit on the exercise of citizens' rights. Whatever it truly is is ultimately irrelevant to the truth of the Gospel. If our political freedoms can be restricted by edict, our freedom in Christ can never be. If our rights as citizens can be violated by judicial fiat, our natural rights as children of God can never be. We are freed by Christ from the slavery to sin so that we might follow after him. And we can follow after him from home, from school, from church, from jail, or from the hospital. We can pursue holiness in the freedom of Christ despite the laws of men, despite the politicians, and despite the bureaucratic red-tape. Both our rights as citizens and our freedoms as men and women of Christ are unalienable, inseparable from who we are as creatures of a loving God. As Americans, today, we celebrate our “freedom from” secular tyranny. As Christians, always, we celebrate the “freedom to” live and preach the Good News of Christ Jesus! 

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  1. Father, overall a solid homily. Maybe one two places where transitions were lacking - but I didn't notice those on the first read through. It followed a logical course, brought out good points, and applied those points to life today.

    Serious question: What kind of feedback are you wanting? It seems that you already know what I am writing to you regarding your homilies, and I don't know that anything I have written is particularly helpful for you. If you just want general impressions like I have been giving you, then I can certainly continue to do that - however if you want more or different feedback let me know and I'll see if I can oblige. Hope you had a happy Independence Day!

    1. Shelly, frankly, at one level, I'm just happy to get any indication at all that someone out there is reading these things! My stats show that about 300 people a day click on each homily. How many of these folks actually read the homily? No idea. Of course, I'd post them even if no one were reading them b/c they have to be written anyway. . .why not post them?

      My greatest concern is that these homilies are helpful to someone's growth in holiness. That would mean that they need to be written in such a way that they are intelligible, grounded in the readings, explicative of the Church's teachings, etc. When I first started preaching regularly (2005), I was more interested in being original, challenging, somewhat provocative. But back then I was preaching to a very well-educated group: seriously Catholic university community, which included undergrads, grad students, profs. E.g., my first daily Mass at U.D. was attended by three profs from the theology dept., several English profs, and the Prez of the university! Now, my congregation is just a normal suburban parish with a mix of older folks, young couples with children, and families with teens. Not many college kids or profs. IOW, I preach to the 99% of American Catholics! It also means I can't do all the "fun" rhetorical curly-cues that I could do back when the congregation shared a common theological/literary framework. There are times when I am seriously, seriously tempted to just let loose with some old-fashioned fire and brimstone preaching! I could do this at U.D. Here, not so much.

      So, does the homily make sense? Is my point clear? Do I explicate the readings and tie them into contemporary Catholic life? Though important, it's not necessary that the homily be "interesting" in the sense of being aurally attractive--this is preaching not poetry.

      Thanks for your feedback! I do read what you and all my readers write. And I try to take your feedback into consideration. If something I'm doing consistently isn't working, please let me know. E.g., my homilies became (in)famous at U.D. for asking questions. It's a rhetorical technique and one that is either loved or hated. . .

      God bless, Fr. Philip

    2. I'm always up for challenging and provocative :-), but that doesn't seem to be what most people want/need from a homily. I'm always impressed by the homilist who can artfully weave a good message for modern day Catholics - who can meet people where they are and encourage them to be "more" with good, solid, practical spirituality. I keep coming back to your homilies because, for the most part, they do just that. And, I enjoy the exercise of being able to comment, so I read in more than one way and am on occasion blown away by your insights or by the take-home point that I get from your words (which is sometimes quite the tangent!).
      Wow, 300 a day ... I was excited last week when I had 8 visits on my closely-guarded "secret" blog!
      Take care and God bless.