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July 8, 2018: The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

First Reading Ezekiel 2:2-5
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Gospel Mark 6:1-6

So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there….

This past week, as we’ve celebrated Independence Day, we’ve reflected on one of the things nearest and dearest to us Americans: freedom, or as our Founding Fathers described it, liberty. The Declaration of Independence is founded upon the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. After the most fundamental human right—the right to life—comes the human right to liberty.

We can think about the morality of human freedom by using an image from C.S. Lewis: that of a ship sailing out to sea. Call it the U.S.S. Liberty. Imagine that in your moral life as a Catholic, you are the first mate on this ship. This image reflects three different dimensions of Catholic morality and freedom.

The first dimension is carried out by keeping your ship in shape: this is personal morality, and is based on the virtues. The second dimension is when you keep your ship from running into other ships that are out there at sea: this is social ethics, and is based upon the Commandments, especially the latter seven. The third dimension comes from knowing that you are at sea on a mission. You’ve been sent to go somewhere, not just to float on the waters. This is our final morality, which shows how our earthly choices are connected to where we will spend eternity. Our final morality is based especially upon the four Last Things.

But none of these three sides of morality—personal, social, or final—makes any sense until we recognize what our human freedom really is, and what it is not.

Today’s Gospel passage proclaims that God’s love for us is absolute. God respects our freedom absolutely. He does so in a way which can be hard for us to understand. Often, our drawing closer to someone else means coming under that person’s influence or even control, and from that experience we tend to flinch. We believe that you can’t draw closer to another without some measure of your freedom being taken away. Love is a tie that binds, we believe.

In fact, our most base instincts tell us that freedom means only “freedom from” others. These base instincts try to convince us to stay stuck in the adolescent stage of life. Of course, it’s only natural that the first several years of human life are spent in the process of separation from others.

Unfortunately, some people spend their entire lives pursuing only this “freedom from” others. They see independence as the “be all and end all” of freedom, rather than as a means to a more profound type of freedom. This is the “freedom for”: the freedom to exercise the capacities we bear within. As Christians, we understand our capacities as capacities to serve others: God and neighbor. The “freedom from” is meant to serve this “freedom for” others.

Those who pursue only the former type of freedom end up separating themselves from others. As a result, they end their lives in isolation. This gives us an insight into the meaning of the eternal Hell that results from mortal sin: Hell is complete isolation, the result of a human person being turned in upon himself.

Christian freedom is unique. The union between a human being and God doesn’t mean being absorbed by God, or being controlled by Him. At every step of our journey towards God, we are fully free to accept or reject Him. So ask for God’s grace, to accept Him more fully, in order to serve Him more fully by loving Him, your neighbors and yourself in an authentic, selfless way.