PASSING ON THE TORCH OF FREEDOM
Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
June 27, 2010
Excitement is in the air as the World Cup continues to keep the whole world glued to their seats and to their digital TV screens. It is significant that, even as the world reels under the specter of terror and ongoing violence perpetrated by both sides who belong to the wide spectrum of political, economic, cultural, and religious ideologies, the vast majority of the freedom-loving world, focuses its attention, not on battling one another with weapons of mass death and destruction, but on slugging it out peacefully in friendly and healthy football matches.
It is unfortunate that there are those among us peoples of all nations, races, and creeds, whose attitude and behavior seem to mar and tar the nobility of such a wholesome dream for camaraderie and competition. It is, indeed, unfortunate, that in our days, there are those of us in the human family, who continue to derail the vision of worldwide fraternity, unity, and solidarity which the God of all creeds, the God of whatever appellation, from whatever faith tradition, so clearly wants His people to work for.
The Roman Catholic liturgy today, draws from the rich Scriptural tradition of both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), and sheds light on this on-going dream of God, on this on-going salvific work that Christ, the Son of God, prayed so fervently for, just before he suffered and died, “that they might be one, even as you and I, Father, are one.”
Four important and significant Biblical personalities are presented for our reflection today: Elijah, Elisha, Paul, and Jesus Christ. All four personages figure prominently in accounts that all speak of a “giving,” “passing on,” a “handing over,” a “tra-dition” in the Latin sense, that is, to bequeath, to give, to deliver. Elijah does more than speak to Elisha. He “throws his cloak over him,” a “sacramental” act of passing on a task and responsibility. Elisha obeys, and goes forthwith to settle his personal and familial affairs. He leaves entirely what appears to be his rather copious means of livelihood, “and gave it to his people to eat.” Paul, for his part, basks in the glory and responsibility of received “freedom,” exhorting his readers at Galatia to “stand firm and not to submit to the yoke of slavery.” In the Gospel, the gift and task of discipleship were couched in no wishy-washy terms: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
There is a very clear trend in the totality of Scriptures that points to the elements that make up the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” In the same Scriptures, and in the tradition passed on by the Church founded by Jesus Christ, salvation, among other things, is very clearly associated with this concept of freedom – freedom from material goods, freedom from stifling relationships, freedom from the “slavery” of sin, freedom from both internal and external bonds that shackle women and men, to superficial cares and concerns that have nothing to do with eternal salvation. There is this unmistakable understanding that, whilst the fullness of salvation is yet to come, the sure way to this salvation already is available for God’s beloved children. In other words, salvation happens, here and now, for all those who love and follow the Lord. Salvation is a reality that takes place right now, right here, and a sure-fire sign it does take place is our sharing in, and our living concretely the manifestations of that gift of freedom.
That gift, however, does not come hermetically sealed, never to be opened. No … it is something one does, something one lives … something one not only professes, but also confesses in one’s deeds. Handsome is as handsome does… The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Freedom is both a gift and a glorious task. It is a privilege and at the same time a power for action, a promise of appropriate behavior commensurate with the nobility of that singular gift from God. It is a gift that is meant to grow, a favor from above that must flourish in our personal and social lives.
And since it is a gift to free persons, it can be abused. It can be misused. And it can plainly atrophy for sheer disuse.
Our own personal lives are a living testimony to the reality of that freedom. It is enough to look back at the choices we have made all our lives. My past 28 years of priesthood alone are an example of that freedom. I have made decisions. I have made choices. And some of those choices have caused grief both in myself and in others, even as some of those choices have led to personal good and that of others. In retrospect, I am sure you will agree with me, that if one could do it all over again, there would be choices and decisions you would have wanted to do a little differently. But choices lead to consequences. And consequences are what we all ought to be responsible for, being offshoots of the very freedom we all invoke.
The world is fast hurtling down the road of extreme polarities. The ideological spectrum now captures the undivided attention of people all over. In many places all over the world, people are neatly divided between two opposing political parties, with equally opposing ideologies. Nations are enmeshed in various forms of cultural, and economic “divides,” like the north-south, east-west problems. People from poor, developing countries like the Philippines are clearly aligned into the “haves” and “have-nots,” “educated” and “uneducated,” the “well-heeled” and the “great unwashed.” Alas, even the Church that we so love, can be scandalously divided between the “liberals,” and the “conservatives,” the “progressives” and the “ultra-traditionalists.” Even an innocent and legitimate dream of “caring for the earth” has been hijacked by ideologues who, claim “global warming” on the one hand, and “global cooling,” on the other, depending on what extremist ideology one is proposing. Polarization in everything and anything seems to be the run of the day. Polarization, I would like to suggest, is the new name for the so many “unfreedoms” in people’s lives today. Extreme polarization is the manifestation of a much deeper and subtler form of slavery that St. Paul speaks about.
In this welter of conflicting and contrasting ideological allegiances, I suggest that we return to the Biblical tradition that today’s liturgy shows us. I suggest that we return to the basic foundation of this freedom. And that foundation lies on the giver of that freedom, the source of that “glorious liberty of the children of God.” That source is no less, and no other than God. “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit to the yoke of slavery.” That freedom, ironically, is founded on “obedience” to the same God. (The Latin ob-audire from where obedience comes, has to do with “listening.”) Jesus Christ now tells us without mincing words: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”
We are avidly awaiting the final results of the competition at South Africa. We Christians do not merely wait for such material results that are fleeting. We live and work – and die, if need be – in order to pass on, not just a torch of victory, but the torch of freedom to one another, and to the rest of the world.