The Catholic Liturgy for the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, June 30, 2019. Galatians 5:1-18. Theme: Made Free for Freedom
St. Paul speaks to us in today’s second reading about the beautiful gift of human freedom, the capacity God has given us to make rational free choices in our lives. This gift of freedom, both as individuals and as a united people, is at the heart of our identity as Americans. It is enshrined in our Constitution under the famous three-part declaration that we have a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is what we celebrate every year on July 4 as we remember the struggle for independence and acclaim our national identity with food, parties and awesome displays of fireworks.
But St. Paul reminds us that in Christ we have been given freedom, not so that we can do whatever we please, but so that we can choose to do what is good and true and life-giving. He warns us that if we misuse this gift we will end up becoming enslaved in a way that is much worse than physical or political oppression. And this is precisely what has happened to a majority of us who live in this Land of the Free, according to psychologists and ministers who so often counsel people.
They say that we who enjoy American independence are in actuality among the highest in the world who suffer emotional and spiritual imprisonment and slavery because we refuse to forgive. They say that the holding onto old wounds and nursing resentment is the #1 cause for such things as: anger issues, broken relationships and fractured families as well as many forms of depression and addiction. These are all ways in which we abuse the gift of freedom and fall into the slavery that St. Paul mentions when he cautions us to avoid verbally and emotionally biting and devouring one another.
Dr. Robert Enright, is a devout practicing Catholic and an internationally acclaimed psychologist, whom Time magazine called the “Trailblazer of Forgiveness”. He travels the world as part of the International Forgiveness Institute and has dedicated the past 25 years of his life to helping people achieve and experience real and full inner freedom in their lives. Here is how he describes forgiveness, a definition that could have been written by St. Paul himself:
“When you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, you let go of resentment and the urge to seek revenge, no matter how deserving of these things the wrongdoer may be. You choose to give the great gifts of acceptance, generosity and love. Forgiving is an act of mercy toward an offender, someone who does not necessarily deserve our mercy but you don’t let that stand in your way. Rather, you give because you have chosen to have a merciful heart. A heart with the power to free yourself so you can live a better life.” And often times our forgiveness also gives the one we have forgiven a freer and better life as well. (Here I tell the story of Alessandro Serenelli. Available on the audio version of this homily)
Dr. Enright tells us that forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation with the person who has offended us. That may never come about but it doesn’t have to in order for forgiveness to be genuine. Most of the time we will really struggle to forgive and will have to wrestle with the negativity that arises each time the memory of the hurt arises in our minds.
But if, as St. Paul says to the Galatians, we surrender ourselves to the Spirit, then we will find a power greater than ourselves that will enable us to meet these memories with the intentional decision to forgive. And eventually, if we are sincere and ask God to accompany us on this forgiveness journey, we will reach a place of peace and serenity. We will be able to truly let go of the hurts and experience what it means to be truly free from the inside out; what it means to blessed with a life rooted in liberty and truly open to the pursuit of happiness.