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Religious Freedom Week 202: Life and Dignity for All
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 26, 2022
First Reading 1 – 1 Kings 19:16B, 19-21
Responsorial – Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Reading 2 – Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Gospel – Luke 9:51-62
In order to respond rightly to the Lord’s call on his life, Elisha must follow Elijah. He begins by offering up the remnants of his old life as a sacrifice. Reading this story in the light of the gospels, we see how the fishermen dropping their nets to follow Jesus echo the story of Elisha.
Jesus reveals the demands of the call of discipleship in his response to those who do not follow him immediately. The call to follow Jesus as a disciple requires an intensity, an energy, a willingness to drop what one is doing and to set off into the unknown.
Like Elijah, James and John are zealous, wanting to call fire from heaven to destroy Jesus’ enemies (see 2 Kg 1:9-12). While Jesus corrects them, it is noteworthy that these men are two of the disciples who are closest to Jesus. Although they are wrong for wanting to destroy their enemies, their intensity is the proper response to the coming of the kingdom of God. The question is how to channel that intensity.
In our current culture, we tend to think of freedom individualistically. That is, “I am free to the extent that I can do whatever I want.” But if true freedom can only be found in becoming who God has made us to be, then we, like Elisha, James, and John, find our freedom when we follow the Lord with our whole hearts.
In the Christian life of discipleship, we look to those witnesses to freedom who show how to follow Jesus. These people reveal the shape of discipleship in diverse ways, and as we reflect on their lives, we can listen for God’s call on us and how we might bear witness to freedom in our own way.
We can follow the Lord confidently, with our whole hearts, because He is faithful to His people.
Our good is with God. The image of God as a refuge is important in the Psalms. There may be conflict in this life, but God is faithful, and with him the psalmist finds life and peace.
God shows the psalmist the path to life. And the psalmist knows that he can trust God, for God will not allow those who follow this path to be separated from him.
The psalmist gives us the prayer of a person who is confident in the faithfulness of the Lord, and therefore steadfast in following him. In the Lord, we find true security, joy, and freedom.
St. Paul teaches, “For freedom Christ set us free.” The purpose of freedom is that we might be servants of one another. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, just as Christ bears our burdens. We are free when we serve one another. Life in the Spirit is always oriented toward love and service for others. Freedom that is centered on satisfying my own appetite is not really freedom at all; it is slavery to the flesh.
It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on our obligations as mere obligations. In other words, we ask ourselves, “Does this count? If I show up for Mass after the Scripture readings, does it count? What is the maximum I can eat on a fast day? Is it okay if I only go to Confession when I’ve done something really bad?” This mentality does not see our practices as pathways to freedom. Rarely does a musician, dancer, or athlete achieve excellence by doing the minimum. And yet, only the excellent musician, dancer, or athlete is truly free (vis-à-vis their particular art). Our goal is communion with God by becoming conformed to Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t focus on obligations because we want to merely get by. Rather, we engage Catholic practices in order to reach the goal, to achieve the freedom of a life lived fully in Christ.
This year, for Religious Freedom Week, we are focusing on the theme of Life and Dignity for All. Our discipleship and service should promote life and dignity for all. The Church promotes life and dignity by building up foster and adoption services and serving in health care. While not all of us are called to serve in these areas, all of us can find out how our parishes can walk with moms in need.
When St. Paul asks us to serve one another, we can hear the Apostle reminding us of our solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. We are called to bear the burdens of all members of the body of Christ. Therefore, it is imperative that we reflect on the lives of our fellow Christians in places like China, whose faith is being tested by the communist government. We pray for the conversion of their persecutors, as we seek out ways to be in solidarity with all people of faith who are persecuted in China.
Jesus’ rebuke to James and John shows a new way that we are called to respond to those whom we perceive as enemies. As the hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, says, “We will love both friend and foe in all our strife, and preach Thee too as love knows how, by kindly deeds and virtuous life.” In other words, while Elijah called down fire from heaven on his enemies, we will bear witness, even if doing so leads to suffering. Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in attacks on Catholic church buildings, as well as assaults on campus groups who seek to spread the gospel of life. When these incidents occur, we may be tempted to want to call fire down from heaven on those responsible. But when we encounter persons who may express hostility for the kingdom of God, we must remember that our goal is not to win an argument or punish an enemy but to bear faithful witness to Jesus Christ and show how we can respect life and dignity for all.