Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Land of the Free. Or is it?

Freedom.  It is one of the most treasured of ideals of the American peoples.  The right so ingrained in the United States that is enshrouded in the very documents that define our nation.  To many that word means the ability to be able to choose whatever we want to do, period.   That mindset has invaded some of the Protestant denominations too.  Faith alone.   St. John's Gospel in a way almost supports that belief, so much so that the author himself had to write epistles to remind his community that we have to follow the ways of Christ, not just profess our belief in Him.   I fell into one of those denominations in my early to mid-twenties. We were told that nothing we did matters anyway, all we had to do was say the sinners' prayer, and live our lives.  As a result, I did many things that I regret today.

That is the mistake that the Pharisees are making as well.  Jesus says to them that He came to free them.  They respond "We have never been in bondage."   How ironic that statement is.  The Jewish people had been slaves in Egypt, followed by many years of persecution and ensnarement, and were even now under occupation by the Roman empire...  That took their freedom to choose, their free will to do whatever it was they desired, to mean freedom.   Jesus was offering them freedom from sin itself.  Freedom not just to follow our desires and emotions, but to be so Christ minded that our actions flowed naturally toward the good.

549 By freeing some individuals from the earthly evils of hunger, injustice, illness and death, Jesus performed messianic signs. Nevertheless he did not come to abolish all evils here below, but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God's sons and causes all forms of human bondage.

That is true freedom.   'Conforming our actions to the moral law and incorporating the Gospel message into our lives'.  Many see that law, which James calls the Law of Freedom, as binding.   As some obligation or weight to be born under duress.   They allow their faith to become something that makes them sour, loaded down, unhappy.   They don't realize how much of a gift it truly is.   Raymond Brown, in a lecture I listened to recently, defined Metanoia as 'change of mind.'   Not the kind of change of mind that says I used to like vanilla ice cream, but now I like chocolate.   Rather a physical change, a spiritual change, where our mind becomes like Christs.   Where we so internalize the Moral code that it no longer becomes an effort to do what is right, but we immediately act in a way that brings love to the world.  Baptism doesn't just wash some dirt off us... rather it changes who we are... it recreates us in the Body of Christ and offers us freedom to become little Christ's out in the world. 

613 Christ's death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world", and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the "blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".
That's why it's so important to learn from the major mistake that the Pharisees made.   They claimed that because they were spiritual, and likely physical, descendants of Abraham, that they had nothing to worry about.  That is no guarantee.   Just being Catholic isn't enough.   Just being Christian, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, or whatever other labels you decide to call yourself, isn't enough.  We must be doing the will of God.   Having all that knowledge in your head without putting it into action is, as St. James puts it, a dead faith.  That's why seeing faith alone as the answer is a grave error, a fatal flaw.   The call of our faith is being in communion with God.   That requires sharing a like mind... Christ minded... which means we have to not only learn what God has revealed to us in Christ and through His Church but also put it into action.  To be love in a world that needs it now more than ever.  

1739 Freedom and sin. Man's freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God's plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.
It is the time in which we must stop abusing our freedom.   As St. Paul says, "All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable."  Even that which we can do is not always the best thing to do.   Our actions need to reflect the light of Christ into a world of darkness.   To lift the veil as it were of our own flesh to reveal that image of God that exists inside of us.   Jesus has revealed to us the very will and desire of God in His own incarnation, and the scriptures tell us consistently how that should look in the world.   Which means not just praying, but reading also, and then putting into action those words in our lives.  

'Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading.
If a man wants to be always in God's company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.
All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.
Reading the holy Scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man's attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.
The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it. In reading we aim at knowing, but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study.
The more you devote yourself to study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.
The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded, equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth.
Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. But when God's grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.'
St. Isidore of Seville, 'Book of Maxims

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease."
A reflection on the readings for daily Mass for Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent: April 5th, 2017.