02 September 2006

Homily - 3 September 2006

There are many today who reject the Commandments of the Lord - and the teachings of the Church - because, they say, they take away their individual freedom. This claim demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Commandments and of their purpose. Says Moses today to the people of Israel:

Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you (Deuteronomy 4:1).
Two things should be noted here. First, these statutes and decrees do not come from Moses himself, but from the Lord God; these are the commandments of the Lord, which he gives to his people through his servant, Moses. Moses is not being domineering or controlling, but is, rather, fulfilling his sacred duty as the Lord’s messenger. Second, these commands are not given to the people to oppress them or to take away their freedom, but to give them life, that they may live.

If this is so, we must ask the question, “What is freedom? What does it mean to be free?” Freedom, as most often consider it, is the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want and however I want, with nobody telling me otherwise. Freedom does not involve the truth because I am free to choose the truth; freedom does not involve other people because I can do what I want, and it certainly does not involve God because he takes freedom away. This, of course, is complete nonsense.

Freedom must always involve the truth. Freedom also always involves other people because we are social beings and every decision we make – even the seemingly insignificant – affects at least one other person. Freedom must also always involve God for he alone is the source of freedom.

In reality, freedom is nothing other than

the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.
As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus growing in perfection or failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit of reproach (no. 1731-1732).
Freedom, then, is the ability, the choice, to do good or to do evil. And, of course, “The more one does good, the freer one becomes” (no. 1733) because human freedom is aimed at doing good, at doing the will of the Lord for our lives and only in doing his will are we truly free.

We look at the Commandments and we so often see nothing more than the Lord saying “no” to what we find good. In response to this view, the Holy Father reminds us:

On the contrary, Christian faith and ethics do not wish to stifle love but to make it healthy, strong and truly free: this is the exact meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are not a series of 'noes' but a great 'yes' to love and to life.[1]
It seems to us that God takes away our freedom but in reality the commandments are given to us to make us free. How? The Commandments of the Lord show us the difference between good and evil and by knowing the good we can then choose it. We are free to do good, we are free to do the will of the Lord, we are free to live as God has created us to live.

The Apostle James encourages us to “humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). He encourages us to “be doers of the word not hearers only” (James 1:22) for “he who looks into perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer who acts, he shall be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). In other words we must keep the commandments by fulfilling them and living a life worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The scribes and pharisees kept the law, it is true, but they did not always keep it with love. Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commandments will bring us to true freedom when we keep them not only by our actions but in our hearts as well. In this way the commandments become for us something very beautiful because they are given to us in love. Pope Benedict says that

the history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists in this, at the deepest level, in the fact that he gives her the Torah[the Law], thereby opening Israel’s eyes to man’s true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness – a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness.[2]
If we come to this joy and happiness in God by following the commandments, why are we often so hesitant to keep them with mind, body and heart? In his inaugural homily, the Holy Father asked the same question in different words:

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? … No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. … Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life. Amen.[3]
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants at the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome, 5 June 2006.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, no. 9.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily, 24 April 2005.


  1. Anonymous10:43 PM

    Dear Fr. Zehnle,

    How have you been? I would like to write you an e-mail, but I cannot find your e-mail address on your blog and would rather not post mine under your "comments" section.

    Please let me know how I may contact you. Thanks!

  2. You may contact me at dzehnle@yahoo.com.