“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.” (Gal 5:1-2)
What is the “freedom” that St. Paul speaks of in the letter to the Galatians we heard on the 13th Sunday? It’s not that “we are no longer slaves and we can be and live as we please; left to our own devices.” The freedom he refers to is that, if we choose to do God’s will, we feel free, peace-filled and happy. The desires of the world and the flesh enslave us and do not permit us to feel the pure, free and complete love of God.
When we were young and obeyed what our parents asked, we were happy because we knew they were pleased with us; the consequences of our decision to obey were positive and resulted in a feeling of freedom. But, when we disobeyed, we were worried about whether they’d find out what we did, afraid of the negative consequences of our decision, guilty because we knew we hurt the relationship we had with them. This resulted in sadness and slavery to pain.
The same is with God, who is our eternal Father. When we choose to follow God’s commandments and teachings, we experience an unequaled freedom because we know he is pleased with us. But our humanity is fragile, and God knows that. That is why Jesus promised to remain with us to be the guide and strength we need through the Holy Spirit and the church that he instituted to serve as a guide for us. “You will show me the path to life.” (Ps 16:11)
God created us with free will but left us an understanding of what he expected of us (the Ten Commandments). That free will is to choose between the good God offers us or our own desires, which often are no equal to what he wants for us. When a parent gives a child a choice between playing and doing their schoolwork, the parent knows what is the best decision, but what do you think the child will opt to do? What he/she likes and makes them feel good. The same for us. If God leaves us without a guide, we would normally choose what is most convenient and what pleases us, and not what makes us feel uncomfortable and what we should do. The comfort is in knowing that if we choose our own cross, Jesus helps us carry it.
St. Paul also said: “I say then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16) Likewise, as Mary ordered in the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5) When we live as the Holy Spirit asks, it makes it more difficult to fall into those temptations that lead us to slavery in sin, and we are free and happy.
Johnston is coordinator of catechesis and evangelization for St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Rochester.