Freedom and Fear
“Jesus wants us free. And where is this freedom created? It is created in dialogue with God in the person’s own conscience. If a Christian is unable to speak with God, if he or she cannot hear God in his own conscience, he or she is not free.” (Note 1)
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“In Ecclesiasticus it is written: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom … [it] is gory and gladness and a crown of joy. This fear, according to Saint Bonaventure, is a humble trusting reverence toward God, a willing obedience, a free voluntary veneration. It is, further, a filial fear, afraid only of offending God, even in the least matter, refraining even from sins which would not separate one from God, only for the sake of not offending his infinite goodness in the slightest degree.” (Note 2)
There are two basic themes in the readings today: freedom and fear. When we thing of free, we think of the freedoms we possess based on our inherent human nature. Jesus describes us as slaves to sin the Gospel, and says that ‘the truth will set you free’ (cf Lk 8:31-42). We tend to think of that as telling the truth, but Jesus means it more in the sense of objective truth, the truth that only comes from God. When we sin against God and are not repentant for it, we become slaves to our sin and are not free. But, if we seek forgiveness, the truth — God — will set us free. On a somewhat funny side, during yesterday’s homily on EWTN, Fr. Mitch was speaking on euthanasia. He said, and I am ad libbing, “they tell you, sure, if you want to kill yourself, we’ll let you and even help you, it will be painless. And it probably will be painless, until you get to hell.” There is no freedom in taking your own life, because you kill a creation of God, and you can’t seek forgiveness for that sin. You then are bound to your sin with no way of seeking recompense with God (remember the rich man from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (cf Lk 16:19-31)). So, to truly be free, you have to live in Truth.
Next is fear of God. People always take this as being afraid of the punishment and wrath of God, but that can’t be further from the truth. Our fear of God should be borne out of a sense of awe, devotion, and reverence to God, and fear that we will do something contrary to his goodness. Not because we fear punishment, but because we fear the disappointment it will cause someone we love so dearly. It’s similar to the fear we have of disappointing someone we love here on earth, though to a much higher degree. Fr. Peter always says, “if you’re coming to church because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and you sit in the same pew eery Sunday and you get nothing out of it except fulfilling an obligation to go to church, stop going, it is doing nothing for you. you should go to church because you love God, and you fear God because you fear disappointing him. If you’re doing it because it’s just another obligation, just stop going.” What he’s saying is, you’re going to church because you’re afraid of going to hell if you don’t instead of being afraid that you’ll disappoint the one you love more than anyone else. It’s a disordered view of fear, and a disordered view of freedom. When I go to church, I go because I enjoy meeting Jesus sacramentally in the Eucharist, and because I enjoy spending that time in his presence. Sometimes I have the added benefit of a good homily (ok, with Fr. Peter that is most of the time). I do it out of my love for Jesus, because I want to spend that time with him and hear the Truth from the Gospel.
There is so much more that could be said on this, but I’ll boil it down to this: The Truth will set you free — free from being a slave to sin, which make you free to participate in the communion of saints. Our freedom is borne from a sense of fear — not fear of hellfire, but fear of disappointing the Truth which has truly set us free.
1. Pope Francis, “To Make You Free”. In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 36.
2. Saint Vincent Ferrer, “How the Truth Sets Us Free”. In Magnificat April 2017, Vol 19, No. 2, ed. Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P. (Yonkers, NY: Magnificat, Inc, 2017) 82.