By Fr. Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S.
As a child I remember looking forward to the annual Fourth of July festival that was sponsored by my home parish. Every year this day of food and fun ended with the traditional fireworks display. We would ooh and ahh at the bright colors and beautiful patterns of light that filled the night sky. There is something inspiring that happens when we look up at the sky and consider the expansiveness of God’s creative hand. Our dreams, like the dreams of those who signed the Declaration of Independence 245 years ago, take us beyond the limits of this world and open our hearts to the freedom that is given to us as children of God.
This freedom is not permission to do whatever I want to do. Rather, the freedom that we receive from God is to love as God loves. The prophet Ezekiel was called upon by God to help the people of God see that their misuse of human freedom led to a path of destruction. They are now in exile and Ezekiel is being sent to a people who are “hard of face and obstinate of heart.” They have a long history of ignoring the Word of God. And yet, Ezekiel is sent to renew God’s dream for them as the chosen people of God.
In a similar way, the American story reveals a rugged individualism that says, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” meaning I will succeed without any outside help. It is sung in the words of Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way!” This thinking runs counter to the Christian vision of life, which is communal. We need one another to build the Body of Christ. We cannot go it alone.
Every Sunday we celebrate our freedom from sin and death, our freedom from fear, our freedom to love and to serve one another as Christ has taught us. We declare our independence from the temptation of the devil and commit “to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 27:37-39).
Being free means surrendering our lives over to God: our will, our strength, our mind. When we are dependent upon God then we are free. As the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
This is the truth of the cross of Christ. St. Peter reminds us, “Realize that you were ransomed (set free) from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the Precious Blood of Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19) When we stop living the sacrificial love Jesus taught us we are no longer free because we become ensnared by sin and selfishness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus has returned to his native place. Just before this reading, Jesus had crossed the lake and entered pagan territory and cured a man possessed by a demon then crossed back to the other side of the lake and healed the woman with a hemorrhage and brought Jairus’ daughter back to life. All of these encounters proclaim the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Kingdom of God is in their midst. It’s like fireworks going off everywhere, everywhere except in his native place.
Those who thought they knew Jesus didn’t know him at all. They were scandalized by his presence. They did not see God’s divine power at work in him; all they could see was the carpenter, Mary’s son.
What about our preconceived notions about who God is and what it means to live in freedom? These become stumbling blocks and keep us from reaching the dream that God has placed in our hearts for ourselves and our world. If we limit our vision to this world alone and rely only upon our own strength, we are trapped and simply respond to our human appetites. As a people redeemed in the Blood of Christ, we are free to love as Jesus loved. When we follow the example of Christ’s sacrificial love, then we will light up a darkened world in a spectacular way that leaves us standing in wonder and awe of the power of Christ at work in our lives.
Fr. Angelo Anthony, C.PP.S., is the pastor of the Downtown Dayton parishes, which include Emmanuel, Holy Trinity and St. Joseph. He also serves as the vice moderator general of the worldwide Congregation.