03 July 2021

Homily - 4 July 2021 - How Saint Joseph teaches us the perfection of freedom

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Before sending Ezekiel to a rebellious people with the mission to convert them, the prophet tells us that the Holy Spirit entered into him and “set me on my feet” (Ezekiel 2:2). This is a curious phrase he uses, “set me on my feet.” What does it mean?

This phrase can, of course, have several different meanings, either all at once or each in turn. To be set on one’s feet can mean to be strengthened or to be made firm; it can mean to be grounded or set aright or corrected; it can be taken literally, as when a parent stands a toddler up when learning to walk, or it can be figurative.

Whichever of these meanings Ezekiel intended, one thing is certain: he does not speak in the active sense, but in the passive. He does not stand himself up on his feet, rather; he is stood up, which requires a certain docility to the Holy Spirit, something men and women of our day are not much open to.

Ezekiel could not rely on his own strength for the mission given to him, but he could only rely on the strength which comes from the grace of God. This Saint Paul also knew when he heard the Lord Jesus say to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (II Corinthians 12:9). This is the wisdom of the Cross, a wisdom Saint Augustine and so many other Saints both learned and lived. Have we learned this wisdom? Have learned not to rely on our own strength, or courage, or desire, or determination, or ability, or ingenuity? The way and wisdom of the Cross is not the way or wisdom of America; it is not the way of self-reliance.

As we celebrate this weekend our nation’s founding and independence from Great Britain, it is hard not to think of freedom, which can rightly be called the way and wisdom of America. But how wise are we as a country, as a people, as individuals in the way of freedom?

When he thought about freedom some 1,300 years before the Founding Fathers, Saint Augustine said,

The beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes... such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom...[1]

Our nation understands this well enough; it knows the beginning of freedom, but it does not know the perfection of freedom.

We think of freedom as the ability – even the right – to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. But the Church knows this is not the perfection of freedom, but rather a very great distortion of freedom, an exaltation of freedom “almost to the point of idolatry.”[2]

Saint Paul told the people of Galatia, “You were called to freedom, brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:13). We can rightly say, then, that the perfection of freedom is loving service of others; the perfection of freedom is not found in lives of self-absorption.

How much different would our society be if we as individuals, as a people, as a nation, followed these words of the Apostle? How much different would our society be if we lived not as servants of ourselves, with a distorted and idolatrous notion of freedom, but if we instead used our freedom to live as servants of one another, as Saint Paul teaches us? How much more brightly would the light of the love of Christ Jesus shine through us to illumine the darkness of sin and lead men and women into the light of authentic freedom?

If we consider the life of Saint Joseph, we see that
“the logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.”[3] In this year devoted to the Head of the Holy Family and the Protector of the Church, we have much to learn about authentic freedom, about human freedom from this man who says little with words but speaks eloquently in deeds. From Saint Joseph, we can learn that

freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfilment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.[4]

Indeed, “Christian freedom is never identified with libertinage or with the will to do as one pleases; it is actuated in conformity to Christ and hence in authentic service to the brethren and above all to the neediest.[5]

In the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, we see quite clearly that “freedom is acquired in love, that is, in the gift of self.”[6] As we celebrate our freedom this Independence Day, may we always remember that our freedom is not freedom to do whatever I want, bur rather freedom for love; it is “it is following Christ in the gift of self, right up to the sacrifice on the cross.[7]

Let us, then, embrace the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God. Let us, like Saint Joseph, strive to use our freedom for loving service of Jesus and his Mother and everyone whom they love. Let us use our freedom to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that he might enter into us, stand us up, and send us to a rebellious people, to a people bound in false notions of freedom and set them free to live in love, in the perfection of freedom. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 41.10.

[2] Pope Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 54.

[3] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7.

[4] Pope Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 35.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 1 October 2008.

[6] Pope Saint John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 87.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 1 July 2007.

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