The Sunday Propers: Love and Freedom

As we head into the Lenten season, the propers of Sunday’s mass can be seen as Holy Mother Church giving us one last bit of wisdom before we embark on our Lenten journeys.  As we enter Lent next week, we will all be doing various fasting, penances, prayers and disciplines, all with varying goals in mind.  The Church tells us that whatever we are doing, do it with two things in mind:  love and freedom.  Our modern conceptions of both damper this message.

Far too often, we interpret freedom as the ability to do whatever we want.  Faced with this kind of freedom, we must ask “freedom from what?”  What exactly do we want to be set free from?  For the Christian, we are slaves to sin, and when we speak of freedom, this is what we speak of.  Thanks to the sin of Adam, all of humanity carries a disposition towards sin known as concupiscence, which St. Paul describes in particularly vivid prose as a war going on in his very soul, where he does what he doesn’t want to, and doesn’t do what he wants.  (Romans 7:15-24)

Christ offers us freedom from this and this alone.  He isn’t here to give you everything you think you want, or to help build the perfect society here on earth.  Those may or may not be noble goals, but they are not his.  He came to Earth to do one thing, to “deliver me in Thy justice, and save me.”  (Introit)  The Collect describes his mission as that of “releasing us from the bonds of our sins.”  The Gospel portrays Christ as the one who gives sight to those born blind, signifying the fact that the freedom Christ offers is akin to seeing the world as it really is for the first time.

What happens once we have this freedom?  Christ talked about this situation last week in the parable of the sower.   One of the groups described are those who receive the word with joy but then return to their old ways.  Some of our Protestant brethren like to speak of “once saved always saved”, that you either cannot do anything to lose your salvation, or God’s grace prevents you from doing anything to lose your salvation.  This idea really misunderstands what the freedom of the Gospel is about.  The gospel sets you free from sin, but you must learn to choose the good.  The sacraments help us make that choice by slowly conforming us to the good that is Jesus Christ.

Another way we are conformed is through caritas, which is traditionally translated as charity but many modern translations have as love.  St. Paul speaks in-depth out the many benefits of caritas in today’s Epistle.  Caritas is more than simply a pious sentiment or a desire to do well.  At the heart of caritas is a desire to sacrifice for the sake of another.  To have the gift of prophecy is certainly a good thing, but if you do not prophesy so that others may hear, what’s the point?  If we are hosting press conferences to announce our donation to the poor, are we really concerned with their needs, or are we concerned with making ourselves look good?

The message of St. Paul is simple:  if we really wish to advance in holiness, it has to be through charity.  God can set us free, but he will not force us to do anything afterwards.  Just as Christ’s gift became so powerful because it was freely given, so to our salvation is only played out in history via our consent, and we give that consent through charity.  We prophesy so that others may repent of their sins and come home to God and His Church.  We donate what we have to the poor because we want them to be raised out of destitution, and that they will see in that kindness the image of the invisible God who offers them even more than we could possibly give.

As we enter Lent, we should reflect on the fact that fasting helps intensify both freedom and true caritas.  When we truly believe and live like we are loosed from the bonds of sin, we find it easy to live with and truly cherish that freedom.  I become more appreciative of the First Amendment with every word I write, and am reminded of its absence every time people are jailed for what they say or write.  Likewise, I learn to love the freedom of the Gospel every day I see it working through my life, and when others fall, I’m reminded of just how precious this freedom is, and why preserving it should be my top priority.

When I practice true caritas, I realize just how much the human person was made to be a gift, and how everything that we do finds its true meaning in it being offered for others.  Over time, those who give to charity are likely to give more to charity as they learn to be flexible with their budgets and stick in additional causes to donate to.  When I give clothing to the poor, I also realize there are so many other things I could do for their benefit, and my heart is moved towards doing so.  The season of Lent exists so we can grow in both of these things.  As we enter Lent this week, let us look at our fasting from that perspective.


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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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