Homily Ė 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
We hear much in our readings today about peace. Jesus is often called the Prince of peace. We offer each other the sign of peace at every mass. We often times pray for peace during our intercessions. One has to wonder, with so many people praying for peace, with Christ wishing us peace, how come we see such an absence of it in our world today? If we examine our culture today we see that we have radically deformed ideas of freedom and authority.
As we celebrate this July 4th weekend we celebrate our independence day. We proclaim our independence from what our founding fathers thought was a tyrannical authority of the King of England. We Americans are great lovers of freedom and rightly we should be. We see from out last readings two weeks ago that we were created for freedom. The problem is we have a grossly distorted understanding of what true freedom is.
For the typical American the idea of freedom is always freedom from something or some constraint. We donít like people telling us what we can not do or what we should do. We believe we are the masters of our fate and if we are truly free then we should be able to do as we please unless we agree not to. For us freedom means a freedom from any restraint.
This is radically different from Godís idea of freedom and what true freedom really is. True freedom, according to Godís plan, is always a freedom for something. Specifically it is a freedom for the good, a freedom for virtue, and a freedom for excellence. For it is the good, the virtuous, and the excellent that brings the peace and happiness we were intended to have. Freedom for God is always a freedom to do good. To do evil isnít freedom from Godís laws but rather to enslave oneself to a life of misery, pain and selfishness.
A good priest friend of mine, Fr. Brad Pelzel, gave me an excellent example that explains the difference between the two ideas. I would like to share that with you.
Two boys are locked in two different rooms. In each room is a Baby Grand piano and a book on how to play the piano. Both are told they are free to do as they please. The first boy as a perverted sense of freedom. He believes that freedom is freedom from restraint, and freedom from consequences. He begins to bang on the keys, to pluck strings and be abusive. He believes he is expressing freedom. He destroys the book because he resents his teachers. Eventually he takes delight in ruining and destroying the piano. They told him he was free to do as he wished and he takes great pleasure in unrestrained power, venting his frustrations at being locked in a room and reducing the piano to ruble.
The second young man believes that freedom is for excellence, good and virtue. He is locked in the room but determined to make the best use of his time. He begins to explore the piano. He reads the book on how to use the piano. He disciplines himself to practicing scales, to discovering mathematical harmonies in the notes, and to playing within a confined scale. He doesnít play random notes but rather discovers the order that God has created in sound. After longs weeks, months and years of disciplining himself according to the rules of nature and the instructions in the book, he plays the piano beautifully.
Which of these two was truly free? The boy sitting on the pile of rubble with nothing to do? The one who refused to constrain his expression of power and be confined by the harmonies of nature or the rules of piano playing? Or the one who after many years of disciplining himself according to the rules set forth in the book on how to play the piano? The one who through his years of disciplining himself, ordering his actions, and practicing in the end could play beautiful music.
Which of them had peace? Which of them had happiness?
Godís freedom is always for the good, the virtuous and the excellence. By disciplining ourselves according to the laws he created in nature, and the moral laws for our lives, is how we become truly free, happy and at peace. As St. Paul says in the second reading: ďPeace and mercy on all who follow this rule of life.Ē
We can rebel against the laws of God, we can even experience pleasure in the rebellion as we delight in smashing the moral laws set for our life. But in the end we will end up sitting on a pile of rubble. True freedom comes from disciplining ourselves according to the laws. It comes through submitting our wills to the proper authority whether that be the laws of nature or the laws revealed to us through the instructions of those appointed as teachers.
That brings me to the second topic which is authority. For many Americans the idea of authority is that of an elected one. No taxation without representation. We donít want to submit to an authority we donít choose or have a vote in. In the governance of a human state this is fine. But it doesnít work that way with Godís laws or the Church which is the body of Christ.
Godís authority is given to those whom he has appointed and sent. It is given to those he has ordained. Not to do with as they wish but do preach as the Lord commanded. This is clear from our readings today. Christ told the disciples that he appointed what to preach. Paul says he will never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The message is always Christís. He gives it and the authority to his disciples to preach. We cannot appoint ourselves the authority to interpret the message as Martin Luther or Henry VIII did. God appoints as he did with Peter. Peter appoints at the command of the Lord. The rest of us can either welcome the messenger or we can send them packing. For the Catholic the authority always lies outside themselves and is appointed over them not voted on.
We do not vote on what is true. We do not vote on what the teachings of the Church are. We do not vote on who the pope is, or who our Bishop is, or who our priest is. We do not vote on the interpretation of scripture. We do not vote on whether to allow gay marriage, women priests or if people can use artificial birth control. For us the message is always the one that Christ gives and it is always given by those he has appointed and sent.
Freedom and authority are gifts that are given by God to bring us peace and happiness. If we use them according to the way God intended then we will reap the intended reward. If we pervert them then we will reap the fruits of our perversion. We can choose to play the piano as it was meant to be played and as we are instructed. Or we can rebel in an attempt to be free from constraint to do as we wish. In the end we will reap the fruit of what we have sown. A pile of ruble or beautiful music? Indulgence or Discipline? Freedom from restraint or freedom for the good, the virtuous and the excellent? Misery or Peace? The choice is yours. Choose well.