Deacon Cornell's Homily


1 Kings 19:16b,19-21
Galatians 5:1,13-18
Luke 9:51-62


June 30-July 1, 2007, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing; Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrims’ pride, From every mountainside, Let freedom ring!

I think I am safe in saying that most Americans would sing this verse of My Country 'Tis of Thee with enthusiasm and wholehearted agreement with what the words say. Freedom is surely the one word that describes what the USA is about, as we celebrate the 4th of July. All three of our readings today speak to us about freedom. But I suspect that the freedom that most people associate with the US is very different from the freedom our readings speak about.

The popular culture notion of freedom has been characterized as "freedom from" while the freedom our readings talk about has been characterized as "freedom for". The "freedom from" understanding is basically that there should be no restrictions on anything that anyone wants to do, as long as it does not impinge on anyone else's freedom. The "freedom for" understanding is that to be free means that we can seek out and do what is right. In other words, we are free to follow truth, God's truth; we are free to do the right thing. As Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." (John 8:32) Any attempt to separate freedom from truth leads to trouble. Yet that is exactly what our culture tries to do. For example, I suspect a much smaller percentage of people would be willing to sing the 4th verse of My Country 'Tis of Thee which goes:

Our fathers’ God, to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing; Long may our land be bright With freedom’s holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God, our King.

Separating freedom from truth leaves the determination of what is good or bad to each individual. To see the effects of that, we only need to watch the news.

There are many examples of the effects of the "freedom from" thinking but I just want to focus on one for a few moments. As you might have read, the 4 bishops of Massachusetts are launching a program to promote the vocation of Marriage. Marriage is one of those areas where ignoring or denying the truth leads to disaster. Our culture has tried to cast marriage as simply a contract that is determined solely by the couple or by society. Pope John Paul II correctly characterized marriage as foundational to our understanding of who we are and who God is, and therefore tied very closely to what kind of families we will be and what kind of culture we will be. While the timing of this announcement is very close to the time of the Constitutional Congress vote on the marriage amendment, this initiative was conceived much earlier as, part of a four year initiative by the US bishops. In fact it goes back to the late 60's. Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae accurately predicted the decline of marriage due to what we would call today a contraceptive mentality. In the last 20 years, Catholic marriages in the Archdiocese of Boston have gone from 12,274 a year to 4,519 last year, a drop of 60%. Overall in the last 15 years in Massachusetts, marriages have dropped from 47,696 in 1990 to 39,074 in 2005. The disastrous effects of this devaluation of marriage is written large in children being raised without the proven benefit of a loving father and mother who are married to each other, in increased crime, poverty - especially of women and children, and despair. The truth is that the marital union at its core is faithful, fruitful, total, and forever. Whenever you try to separate any of those characteristics because of this "freedom from" mentality, you have the situation we find ourselves in today. The contraceptive mentality has not enhanced the status of women as was so boldly trumpeted but has resulted in what is arguable the most degradation of women in the mainstream of culture. If you don't know what I am talking about, watch MTV for about 5 minutes.

So here is where one of my favorite poor arguments raises its ugly head. But Charlie, in a pluralistic society you cannot impose your religious views on others. Really? No one seems to be arguing my imposition of my religious belief that murder is wrong on everyone. See, our religious beliefs are not something that a bunch of bishops made up at some secret gathering. Our religious beliefs are an expression of what we have discovered to be the truth. Truth is truth. For everyone, everywhere. Otherwise it is not truth. That argument is the same as one that bars scientists from participating in the public debate because they keep trying to force everyone to adhere to this law of gravity that they believe in. If you are not convinced that the truths we profess as Catholics are universally true, I urge you to look into that. Find some reliable sources that explain our beliefs in a way that stands up to the most blistering examination.

Our baptismal anointing as prophets calls us to counter our culture's lies with the truth. It is not enough just to be "good" and to go to church and say our prayers. By baptism we are set free in Christ so that we might follow him. That is not easy to do. In both the first reading about Elijah passing his mantle to Elisha, and the Gospel collection of some of Jesus' saying about discipleship, we see the practical implications of the "freedom to" understanding. In Christ we are free to chose to follow Christ. The sayings that Luke puts here illustrate this. Jesus says to one, "Let the dead bury the dead." and to another, no one who "looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Is Jesus saying that we shouldn't care for our families or take care of those in need? Of course not. He is using hyperbole, a favorite figure of speech for him, to make the point that discipleship is hard, and that it take 100% commitment. There is no such thing as a half-disciple. Speaking God's truth is tough in our culture. At the very least you will get laughed at; more likely you will be reviled. But if we are to be free, we must be prophets of God's truth. Edmund Burke was right when he said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Let us heed St. Paul's words from that second reading: Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

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