It is hard to believe that another Fourth of July has passed! Yet, our second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (5:1, 13-18) two Sundays ago was the perfect prelude to what we celebrate each Independence Day: “Freedom!” What particularly moved in that reading was St. Paul’s definition of freedom — a definition which can be a true beacon for our nation and its citizens in the present moment: “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:13-15).
I find much food for thought in those three verses as I consider the self-evident truths on which our nation was founded — “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” For all of them are directed to the good of the other and not merely self! In these days after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, I think it is essential that the Catholic community not only embrace the Gospel of Life in its entirety — upholding the sanctity of life — not only from conception to natural death, but even more importantly in concern to all persons (with no regard to race, color, creed, religion, gender or orientation) who dwell in this land and in the wider family of nations).
Pope Francis on the same Sunday the above Scripture passage was read stated in his homily at the World Meeting of Families in Rome:
“All of you married couples, in building your family, made, with the help of Christ’s grace, a courageous decision: not to use freedom for yourselves, but to love the persons that God has put at your side. Instead of living like little islands, you became ‘slaves of one another.’ That is how freedom is exercised in the family. There are no ‘planets’ or ‘satellites,’ each traveling on its own orbit. The family is the place of encounter, of sharing, of going forth from ourselves in order to welcome others and stand beside them. The family is the first place where we learn to love. We must never forget that the family is the first place where we learn to love.”
For me, our parish families and our larger diocesan family must be the first place where we learn to love. Where you and I learn the art of accompaniment, and how to empty ourselves for the good of one’s neighbor. These days my own faith is tested when I hear fellow Catholics tell me quite matter of fact: “I am sick of loving my neighbor and always having to think about the other person,” or that person’s feeling so free to make derogatory and demeaning remarks about another paying no attention to how “anti-Gospel/anti-Jesus” they sound.
Again as Pope Francis noted in his recent homily: “Let us not allow the family to be poisoned by the toxins of selfishness, individualism, today’s culture of indifference and culture of waste, and as a result lose its very DNA, which is the spirit of acceptance and service. The mark of the family is acceptance and the spirit of service within the family.” The Holy Father would go on to state the importance of reflecting on God’s way of acting!
For me, that is what freedom (which is a gift from God) is all about — it is all about our acting in the image and likeness of the Divine Image in which you and I are made. This is the real challenge for those who want to be a living gospel of life for all people to hear! How is the face of God …… how is Jesus to be known through us?
Sadly, we can be a people of excuses or seeking to be excused from such activity. We desire to be about everything but the work of the Lord; and can find ourselves easily distracted by behaviors and attitudes that are popular, but enslaving. The context of Paul’s letter to the Church of Galatia is that the early Christian community was allowing itself to become enslaved by returning to a way of life and practices that were devoid of Christ or pushing him to the side in consideration of how “I” feel.
For me this is a challenge we face as a community of faith in a land that declares itself to be “one nation under God.” In the words of the Preface for Independence Day:
[Jesus] spoke to us a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters.
His message took form in the vision of our founders as they fashioned a nation where we might live as one.
His message lives on in our midst
as our task for today and a promise for tomorrow.
With these words in mind, I close with some final thoughts from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in reference to the ruling on Dobbs vs. Jackson:
“Now is the time to begin the work of building a post-Roe America. It is a time for healing wounds and repairing social divisions; it is a time for reasoned reflection and civil dialogue, and for coming together to build a society and economy that supports marriages and families, and where every woman has the support and resources she needs to bring her child into this world in love.
“As religious leaders, we pledge ourselves to continue our service to God’s great plan of love for the human person, and to work with our fellow citizens to fulfill America’s promise to guarantee the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”