27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     People often claim that the Catholic Church is simply not relevant in the 21st century, yet Pope Francis’s visit to the United States clearly shows that She is just as relevant as ever. What other leader’s presence causes most news outlet to change their normal programing to catch his every word, or brings the president to publicly declare on the White House lawn the greatness of the Church in the United States, or moves lawmakers to tears and moves millions of everyday Americans flocking to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, braving long lines and tight security for the hope of simply catching a glimpse of the Vicar or Christ on earth? Anytime a Pope visits it is truly a time of special blessing and there is a reawaking of the faith for many who have fallen away, a deepening of faith for those who are practicing and an invitation for all people to discover the beauty of the Catholic Church. Wherever you find yourself, if Pope Francis’s visit has moved you to deepen your faith please know you are most welcome here and I am always here to talk with you.

     While Pope Francis has certainly taken the world by storm, he is not without controversy for some. Politicians, media pundits and even Catholics seize his words to push their agenda, leaving some to ask if the Pope is a socialist, if he is really prolife, and even if the Pope is really Catholic, but this line of questioning is too political and completely misses the point. Pope Francis does not think in political terms, he doesn’t think as a conservative or a liberal, rather Pope Francis thinks in terms of the person, what he calls the “theology of encounter.”

     Pope Francis is teaching us that Jesus came not as a philosophical idea or political system, but as a person. He is showing us that God became man to have a relationship with us as persons. He is reminding us that we are not ideas, categories, or political alliances. While we can often identify ourselves as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, white or black, gay or straight, pro-life or pro-choice, etc. behind the label or idea is a person: a person with a life story and an eternal destiny. Pope Francis is reminding us that the teaching of Jesus calls us to put aside these labels and to come person to person with our brothers and sisters recognizing that we are all children of the same God who is our Father. He is challenging us to defend the teachings of Jesus Christ while reminding us to ask ourselves how do I encounter a person. Do I truly meet the person or do I label them? His visit to the United States invites us to pause for a moment to strip away the emotionalism and ideology and to ask: who are the people in this hot-button “issue”? Have I allowed for a heart-to-heart encounter with a person? Can I look beyond the labels and name calling to see a person? While the Church, unabashedly upholds the dignity of every human life and the intrinsic evil of abortion she knows that often times many women feel trapped in their situations or feel forced into an abortion. This is why, we as a Church, work to provide resources for women in difficult and crisis pregnancy’s, why we work to bring lasting changes to social structures that leave some women feeling like abortion is their only option and why the Archbishop has a standing promise to any woman that our Archdiocese will provide any funds necessary to help a woman raise her child.

     We as Catholics cannot preach that abortion is wrong and then fail to help those who feel like they have no other choice. We must also work to help men and women who have had an abortion and are struggling with the consequences of their choice because we know that God’s mercy is truly boundless, and His hope is available to all people, regardless of the mistakes we have made.

     If we truly want to be prolife, we must recognize that the culture of death goes deeper than just abortion and we must examine ourselves and how we have contributed to the culture of death in our society remembering that anytime we deny someone the rights and dignity that is due to them as a person, we contribute to the culture of death. Have I, by my words or actions, supported or encouraged abortion? Have I, by my thoughts, words, or actions, treated someone as less than equal? Have I treated someone as less deserving of respect and dignity because of their race, their socioeconomic situation, their age, their beliefs, their ability to work, their mental or physical abilities, or the choices they have made? In what ways have I contributed to the idea that some people are less worthy of rights and respect than others? As a Church, we work to protect not just the rights of the unborn, but of all people, certainly by our words, but most importantly by our actions.

     There is great evil in our society today and we cannot remain silent. We must speak out to defend the unborn and in defense of marriage, but we must speak not only with our words but with our actions, striving not to debate with philosophies or political alliances but rather searching out opportunities for encounters with human people, created in the image and likeness of God, remembering that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity. Man is the source, the focus, and the aim of all economic and social life.”[1]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Caritas In Veritate par. 25.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     Is 50: 5-9 / PS 116: 1-6, 8-9 / Jm 21:14-18 / Mk 8:27-35

     “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a question that all of us either have had to answer or will certainly have to answer in our lives. That most fundamental question stared me straight in the face at the end of my junior year of high school, when seemingly out of nowhere, while I was on a retreat, the idea of becoming a priest popped into my mind. To be honest, I was looking forward to college and a successful career, so priesthood was about the last thing I wanted. Yet the more I tried to dismiss the idea of becoming a priest, the stronger the call became. With the idea of priesthood refusing to leave my mind I found myself in a very similar position to the apostles in today’s Gospel.

     I grew up in a very Catholic family, my parents took me to Mass everyday, we prayed together as a family every night, and it was just taken for granted that we would be faithful Catholics. Yet I have to admit that while I grew up in a Catholic family I had never really truly answered Jesus’ most basic question, “who do you say that I am.” I believed Jesus was God, I believed the Church and the basics of our faith, but it was at the moment when I was facing the idea of becoming a priest that I was first truly challenged to move from complacency to firm resolve, in answering that most basic question. You see while I didn’t want to be a priest, I knew deep down that if Jesus was really the Son of God, who came to suffer, die and rise that you and I might have eternal life then the only logical choice is to follow the call of Him who loves me so deeply.

     For nights on end I laid awake at night asking myself the most fundamental question of our faith, who is Jesus. I knew Jesus claimed to be God, but did I believe Him? As I wrestled with that question I realized either Jesus must really be who He says He is or this is the world’s greatest fraud. I then asked myself is it really possible that 11 simple village people could somehow start a religion based off of some crazy son of a carpenter? Could a religion with that grounding really immediately spread across the globe, through the witness of people who were willing to die for the faith? If Jesus was not who He said He is, how could the Church have survived over 2,000 years, outliving many powerful empires that sought to destroy her and today boast over 2 billion believers? Friends I could go on hours explaining how I was able to come to answer with Peter, you are the Christ, the son of the living God, but the real challenge came only after I answered that Jesus is the Christ the son of God, because confessing Jesus’ divinity requires that our lives reflect that statement.

     While I had come to believe Jesus was who He said He was, living my life with faith seemed impossible. Sure I had a head knowledge of who Jesus was but I could not find a way to transfer that knowledge to my heart. It was only when I finally let go and simply said, if my mind has come to this knowledge then I need to just live my Christian faith, that my faith really became integrated into who I was as a person. I learned the simple less, that if we want to have that faith we have to just go for it.

     When I was in first grade my swim coach decided it was time for me to learn how to swim the fly events. Now for those of you who are not familiar with swimming, swimming the butterfly stroke legally requires that your feet stay together as you kick for the whole race. Well to teach me how to keep my feet together these coaches pulled me out of the water, sat me in a chair, tied my feet together then threw me off the chair into the deep end of the pool. While it was not the most pretty sight [I don’t suggest you use it as a teaching method], and I bobbed up and down for a while, with the help of the coaches in the pool I survived and went on very quickly to learn to how swim with my feet together. So too in our faith life; sometimes we just need to jump off the deep end. Will we bob up and down for a while? Perhaps, but the Church and our parish will be there to help keep us from sinking and in no time at all we will be moving forward with a life of faith at lightning speed.

     Friends Jesus puts a very simple question to us today when he asks us who do you say that I am. The evidence is overwhelming, but are we willing to profess with St. Peter, that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. You see once we make that profession, we have to then jump in the deep end and begin to live out our faith, recognizing that “one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standard, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being and aided by that light to find the right path.”[1]

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press,2011. Pg. 67.

Pope Francis, Abortion and the Year of Mercy

     If you have been listening to the news this week I’m sure you heard that Pope Francis gave priests the authority to absolve the sin of abortion. Sadly, as often happens when the secular media tries to report on the Catholic Church without first checking with the Church, there was much confusion. Many Catholics, not being told the whole story, stopped and said “wait I thought if I confessed my sins with contrition they were forgiven, why is Pope Francis just now letting priests absolve the sin of abortion.” Any priest in good standing in his diocese has the authority to offer the absolution of Jesus, yet there are some sins which because of their seriousness carry with them a penalty which the bishop or in some rare cases the Pope himself must lift before the person can receive absolution.[1]

     Due to the seriousness of the sin of abortion, anyone who participates in the act of abortion is automatically excommunicated,[2] that is to say the person should not seek to receive any of the sacraments, have any ministerial participation in the Mass, such as a reader of extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or to hold any governing offices in the Church, for example to sit on the parish council,[3] until they have sought reconciliation with the Church. By imposing the penalty of excommunication the Church is not intending to keep the person from the mercy of God, rather “she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”[4] Under normal circumstances one who has been excommunicated, would come to the sacrament of Confession and express contrition for their sin and the priest would petition the Bishop anonymously on behalf of the penitent to remove the excommunication and after hearing from the Bishop’s delegate that the excommunication was lifted he would offer absolution to the penitent. With this new ruling Pope Francis is instructing priests to skip the red tape and is giving them the authority to not only absolve sins but also to lift the excommunication which is automatically incurred when someone participates in an abortion. Practically in our Archdiocese this ruling has no effect because for decades every Bishop has already extended this invitation to the priests of St. Louis, thus if someone confessed the sin of abortion in St. Louis they can be assured that their sin was forgiven and the excommunication was lifted. While abortion is a very serious sin, no sin is too great for God’s mercy. If you or someone you know has participated in an abortion I beg you to come to seek God’s mercy and healing in the Sacrament of Confession.

[1] It should be noted that if a person is near death any priest (even one who has been laicized) can absolve any sin and remove any penalty because the Church wants all to be able to receive God’s mercy before their death.

[2] Code of Canon Law par. 1398

[3] Code of Canon Law par. 1331

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 2272

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     Jos 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B/PS 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21/Eph 5: 2A, 25-32/Jn6:60-90

     Do you believe the Bible to be true? Do you take Jesus at His word? Jesus tells us that we must eat His body and Drink His blood to have eternal life and so to be Christians, to be followers of Christ, we must profess that the Eucharist which we are about to consume is Jesus Himself, not some representation, some symbol or some simple remembrance, but Jesus Himself. Just after saying that we must eat His body and drink His blood, St. John recounts that many of Jesus’ disciples left Him and returned to their former way of life. If Jesus were just speaking figuratively don’t you think He would have called back those who were leaving Him saying something like “hold on, I was just speaking figuratively, it’s not really my body, it only symbolizes my body.” Well Jesus says what He means and means what He says. Today are confronted with the truth that the bread and wine, which will be brought up in a few short moments, will cease to be bread and wine and through the power of Christ Himself will become the Body and Blood of Christ. Are we going to run away with the others or take Jesus at His word and fall to our knees and profess our faith. If we take Jesus at His word and believe He is truly present in the Eucharist then doesn’t it demand a practical response in our lives?

     There is a tradition in the Catholic Church that a priest’s parents give him a chalice, the cup that is used to hold the precious blood at Mass, as an ordination gift. My mom, knowing that the chalice actually holds God Himself, insisted that she buy me the nicest chalice she could find. While I was shopping around, out of nowhere a box arrived for me at the seminary. When I opened the box I found a gorgeous 100 year old chalice and a note offering me the chalice with a request that the donors remain anonymous. Wanting the best care for the chalice I decided to send it the experts in New York to have it appraised and to have a family diamond attached to it. Not wanting to risk anything and unable to insure it without an appraisal I decided to fly with it to New York, to visit the store. I wrapped the chalice in a few fleece blankets and locked it in securely to my carry on case. Since I’m privileged to have Global Entry I thought nothing about going through security with it so tightly wrapped but, unfortunately TSA became suspicious of my bag, because of how it was packed, so they made me take out the chalice. The sight of the shinning gold cup with rubies on it caught the glimpse of the person in line after me and he asked me how I could spend so much money on a cup when there are so many starving people in the world. As I packed the chalice up and walked to my gate I continued the discussion by agreeing with him that all Christians need to do more to relieve the physical sufferings of others, but that we as Catholics believe the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Since Jesus Himself will dwell in this cup I told him that it only made sense that the chalice should be best that money can buy. After all doesn’t it make perfect sense that since Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, we should only use precious metals to hold Him? While Jesus will come and rest on the vessels of gold and silver, He will also come to dwell inside of us as well. If we should only use the finest materials to hold Jesus on the altar, then shouldn’t our bodies be the most pure possible receive Jesus?

     St. Paul reminds us that, “whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup,” [1] With this exhortation in mind, the Church reminds Catholics that they should not receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin. That is to say if we have committed a grave sin, that we knew was wrong, and we did it freely, we should not receive Communion until that sin is forgiven in the sacrament of Confession.

     While it is certainly sad when Catholics receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin it pains me just as much to see Catholics stay away from Communion when often times their situation can be rectified. Pope Francis has called for a year of Mercy, a year for us to come and experience the healing and forgiveness that God extends to His people in the Church. Perhaps you find yourself in a state of mortal sin and unable to get to the scheduled times for Confession, well call me and we will set up a time that works for you. Perhaps you find yourself hearing all this talk in the news surrounding the Synod in Rome about the Church and divorce and you find yourself in that situation. Well rather than listening to what non-Catholics are saying on the news, why not meet with me? While I can’t solve every problem I can promise you that I will listen to you without judgment and then do everything in my power and use every tool at my disposal to help rectify any situation you find yourself in.

     Jesus is a straight shooter and He is clear, unless we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood we cannot have eternal life. Every time we receive Holy Communion God literally comes to dwell inside of us. Are we prepared to receive Him? If not what do we need to do to be able to receive that essential spiritual nourishment?

[1] 1 Cor 11:27-28

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

EX 16:2-4, 12-15 / PS 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54 / EPH 4:17, 20-24 / JN 6:24-35

      I love food, but I learned the hard way sometime back that food is about more than simple enjoyment. In 8th grade, while playing goalie in a soccer game, I dove for a ball as the attacker was on a breakaway. As the striker unleashed a shot I grabbed the ball and his foot hit the corner of my jaw. Standing up and pulling dirt out of my mouth, because I couldn’t spit, I knew something was wrong, but the dentist father of one of my teammates assured my mom that I could not have broken my jaw.

     Trusting the dentist and not wanting to waste a trip to the doctor my mom ignored my injury. After two days my mom noticed that I was not eating and decided perhaps she should take me to see a doctor. I remember sitting in the oral surgeon’s office listening to him tell me there was no way I broke my jaw, yet I was vindicated when he came back after reading the x-ray to humbly admit he was wrong, that my jaw was in fact broken. Sadly the joy of vindication was short lived because I was stuck on a strictly liquid diet for 6 weeks. At first I didn’t think that would be too bad, after all what 8th grader wouldn’t love to have milkshakes all the time for 6 weeks. Yet after a couple of days of only drinking milkshakes I knew I needed something else. No matter how many milkshakes I slurped down, I never felt full and no matter how many milkshakes I drank the hunger pains and headaches didn’t go away, so needing to switch to something more nutritious and I found myself reluctantly drinking meal supplement shakes. Now I don’t know if you have ever had that Ensure or Boost meal supplement stuff, but if you have, I think you would agree with me that while it comes in different flavors in reality it is simply different flavors of nasty. When I first began the liquid diet I couldn’t stand the supplement shakes but in time I began to warm up to them, because they began to taste better, but because of what they did for my body. Regardless of how bad those shakes tasted, they took away my hunger cravings and the hunger headaches allowing me to live my life to the fullest.

     You and I are composed of a body and a soul and thus it is essential that we feed both our physical bodies and our souls. While we are blessed to live in a country that enables us to have great physical foods, we are even more blessed that God Himself provides food to sustain our souls. God, our Father, provides the most perfect spiritual food possible, the very Body and Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.

     While at times all of us can be tempted to think that the Mass is boring, it is in this Mass that God provides for our spiritual nourishment. There are countless people who leave the Catholic Church because the preaching is better at the Protestant Church down the street, or they feel that they get nothing out of Mass. While they may be right, the preaching is probably better at the Protestant churches down the street and perhaps they feel like they don’t get anything out of Mass, to leave the Catholic Church is to run away from the only perfect source of nourishment for our spiritual lives, Jesus Christ Himself. After all no other Church can provide the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and no other church even dares to claim that they do.

     If you read the Gospel account of the Last Supper you will notice Jesus did not say, ‘this is a symbol of my body or this represents my body,’ no, He said, “THIS IS MY BODY.” Likewise He did not say ‘this is a symbol of my blood,” but rather “THIS IS MY BLOOD.” To believe the Eucharist is simply a symbol of Christ makes absolutely no sense. After all even the Protestants agree that Jesus says what He means and means what He says. So if He says it is His Body and Blood, who are we to question Him? In two weeks we will hear Jesus tells us in the Gospel that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.”[1] Just after saying that we must eat His body and drink His blood, St. John recounts that many of Jesus’ disciples left Him and returned to their former way of life. If Jesus was just speaking figuratively don’t you think He would have called back those who were leaving Him saying something like “hold on, it’s not really my body, it only symbolizes my body.”

     Friends we can be tempted to settle for the spiritual milkshake, while God is holding out for us true nourishment. While, in 8th grade, I wanted the milkshake to nourish my physical body because I enjoyed it more, I came to realize that it didn’t satisfy me at all. So too in our spiritual lives we may feel tempted to turn towards a lesser form of nourishment, but in reality the only thing that will truly satisfy our souls is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, which we receive each time we receive Holy Communion. While those meal supplement shakes were boring, and I sometimes wanted a different kind of food, they provided the nourishment that I needed and while the Mass at times may seem boring it is the only sure way to nourish our souls on their journey to eternal life and over time, if we faithfully embrace the Mass, we will find great meaning in it just as I came to appreciate the meal supplements. My brothers and sisters it is really quite simple, if we take Jesus at His word in the Scriptures we have no choice but to admit that the Eucharist is truly His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and since we know that there can be no greater sustenance for our spiritual lives than the Body of Christ, we can find no excuse to skip Mass on Sunday, or worse to leave the Catholic Church, after all it is only the Catholic Church who claims to actually feed our immortal souls with the Body of Christ which Jesus tells us in the Gospel of St. John is required to have life inside of us. Even if at times we feel like settling for the lesser, more entertaining nourishment, we must come to the Catholic Church and receive our true sustenance in Holy Communion.

[1] Jn 6:53


     Anyone who is committed to living out their faith knows that sometimes are easier than other times. There are times when God feels close, often called times of consolation, and there are times when God seems distant, often called times of desolation. While ups and downs in the spiritual life are normal, it is important to know how to recognize the causes and be able to navigate through times of desolation. This short response aims to explain how to remain on the spiritual path when God seems distant.

     To navigate the spiritual journey in times of desolation it is helpful to know what causes spiritual desolation. Since times of consolation and desolation refer to a person’s relationship with God it is clear that there are two parties involved, God and the human person. So these moments of desolation can be either caused by God or the human person. To truly investigate the cause of a particular moment of desolation it is essential to have a clear understanding of God’s relationship with His people and an understanding of the human person.

     God, who is all loving, never turns away from His people. His grace is always being poured into the soul as long as the soul doesn’t reject it through sin. Yet God, in His infinite knowledge may decide to shield the rays of His love from a soul for a while, making it hard to recognize Him because He knows this will ultimately lead us closer to Him. This spiritual crisis is often called the dark night. In the dark night God permits a soul to feel no emotional satisfaction or consolation in prayer. By removing the consolation God purifies the soul leading it to an ever closer relationship with Himself. Through the dark night God purifies the individual soul so that it seeks not worldly or selfish needs, but only true union with God. Since God only gives His people what they can endure, this dark night usually only comes after the soul has an established a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. Many of the great saints including Mother Teresa, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross experienced a prolonged dark night, which they viewed as a gift from God because they understood, not only its purifying power, but also their close intimate relationship with Christ. They knew, after proper discernment, that their dark night was a gift from God, and that the infinitely bright light of perfect union with God was about to break through.

     While the dark night can be permitted by God for the good of a soul, people should not jump to conclusions that their desolation is in fact the dark night. Since prayer is relationship with God, the desolation can be caused by God or by the human being. Each human person is created by God with a body and a soul that is intimately united to each another. The actions of the soul deeply affect the body and the actions of the body affect the soul, so the times of desolation can either be rooted in the soul or the body.

     Since prayer at its core is, union with God, the way a person lives his life effects his relationship with God. Sin, the rejection of God’s love, turns a person away from God and can be the cause of desolation in his life. While a mortal sin immediately cuts the soul off from the body of Christ, even venial sins cause a rupture in one’s relationship with God. Desolation is most often caused by a wounded relationship between a person who has committed many venial sins or by a person who has cut himself off from by the Body of Christ through mortal sin. The first step for anyone who feels abandoned by God must be to humbly admit that he is probably the cause of that separation and he needs to make a serious examination of his life and go to the Sacrament of Confession.

     Created with a body and soul that is intimately connected, what affects the body often affects the soul and can lead to moments of desolation. Sickness, added stress, an unhealthy lifestyle, bad habits etc. not only effects the body but also the soul, because what is bad for the body is bad for the soul. For example if someone is suffering from exhaustion, they may attempt to pray, but their exhaustion will keep them from feeling any connection to God. Thus anyone who feels that God is distant should look at their lifestyle and see if there may be a need to a lifestyle change to allow them to more perfectly commune with God.

     Even after one has prudently discerned what may be causing the desolation and begins to make necessary changes like going to confession or reducing stress, the desolation may remain for a period of time. Regardless of the reason for feeling abandoned in prayer it is important to continue crying out to God. The temptation of someone in desolation is to pray more or to undertake a greater penance, but St. Ignatius of Loyola counsels against this, arguing that the person should focus on being committed to the spiritual practices that were already in place before the desolation began.[1] The ultimate key to enduring times of desolation is patience. Having made a prudent discernment, often with the help of a spiritual director, that the individual is free from sin and from other physical distractions he should place his complete trust in God and proceed with his spiritual practices knowing that God is sustaining the soul even in the darkness.

[1] St. Ignatius of Loyola. Living the Discerning Life: The Spiritual Teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Available at http://www.ewtn.com/series/shows/living-the-discerning-life/download/14rulesofIgnatius.pdf

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

     Ez 2:2-5 / PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4 / 2 Cor 12: 7-10 / Mk 6:1-6

     Yesterday we celebrated the 239th birthday of our great nation. As I celebrated with family and friends I could not help but be thankful that we live in a country founded on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet as I celebrated the great freedom of our country I could not help but recall that those freedoms are not free. Like many of you, I am privileged to count among my friends many men and women who sacrifice so much, including some friends who have paid the ultimate price, to defend the freedom of our great country so that you and I might be free to come here and worship today.

     As I think of the countless men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms as Americans, I cannot help but pause for a moment to ask myself a very basic question. What is that wonderful gift of freedom that we are celebrating this weekend? Sadly many people in our society summarize freedom by saying something like “it’s my life, my body, I can do what I want; I’m free.” Yet if this is freedom our Founding Fathers created utter chaos and countless men and women have died to protect pure madness. For if freedom is the unbridled ability to do whatever we want then freedom leads to people killing other people, to people stealing others property, and to people oppressing others in every imaginable way. As Americans the true notion of freedom is engrained in us and deep down we know true freedom cannot simply be the license to do whatever we want, after all we don’t riot or protest when someone is rightly arrested for murder, theft, etc. Others want to limit freedom to the ability to do something as long as it doesn’t harm others. Yet even you and I know this still can’t be the true meaning of freedom. Why do we step in and have an intervention when one of our friends becomes an alcoholic, or an addict, why do we step in to prevent a high school teenager from continuing with her eating disorder, or to keep a depressed man from committing suicide? We rightly step in because the license to do whatever we want does not lead to freedom, it leads to the exact opposite, it leads to slavery. Ask any recovering addict if his unbridled ability to continue in his addiction was leading to freedom and he will tell you it was only leading to slavery.

     Our country was founded on a greater principle than simply man should be able to do whatever he wants. Countless men and women have died to protect the genius of the Founding Fathers that recognized man is meant to be free, free to live in truth and goodness.  What has made America exceptional is not that we are better than other people. But that for the first time, in a world that for the vast majority of its history had only known tyranny, servitude and serfdom, a system was established that allowed man the greatest opportunity to fulfill his potential as made in the image and likeness of God; and to allow this example to be a witness and call to freedom for mankind everywhere.  Look at the results!  Look at our unparalleled standard of living!

     Still, despite this offering of freedom that is the essence of the Gospel, many people continue to take offense at this Good News and reject it just as our Lord’s own people took offense to the truth and rejected Him in today’s Gospel. People continue to reject the call to holiness, which necessarily places limits on our human actions, because they are afraid that unless they can do whatever they want, they will not be truly free; but this way of thinking fails to understand that this idea of freedom does not make one free, but slaves, slaves to sin.  Slaves to the bottle, to lust and pornography, to drugs, food, anger, take your pick; every manner of vice and addiction has its roots in this false notion of freedom. It seems to me the most free people I have witnessed are those who live holy lives. I can think of no one more free than Mother Theresa or Pope Saint John Paul II.  True freedom, the freedom that God offers us, the freedom for which Jesus died to give us is the freedom to do good, to be unimpeded and unhindered in being who God created us to be, children of God in His own image and likeness, to be the most perfect self we can become.

     You see the principle of freedom does not mean that God has no place in this country. No our founding fathers knew that to remove God from the notion of freedom was to cease to have freedom at all. After all “the highest freedom is the yes in conformity with God’s will.”[1] Our Founding Fathers built a nation with the understanding that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”[2] Freedom, must be something greater than the ability to do whatever we want. Freedom then, is nothing less than the call to greatness.

     God has abundantly blessed our country; more so than in other nation in the history of the world.  We owe it to God and to the rest of humanity to strive for goodness and excellence and to make that opportunity available to others.  If we want America to be great, then it starts right here, with individuals, with you and me.  Do we choose to become a better, my more perfect self, more holy person?  Do we choose to believe, to have faith that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life?  Or do I take offense at Him?  For it is only through good and free individuals, that a society is good and free.  And it is only in God and His Freedom, that a nation becomes great.

[1] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Pg 62.

[2] Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.