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9/10/17 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Freedom is something everyone talks about but few people think about.

Today, the Lord wants us to think about it.

There are three types of freedom. First, freedom from physical restraint. Nazi concentration camps during World War II violated this type of freedom. People were unfairly forced to leave their homes and work to the death at forced labor. The second type of freedom is freedom from psychological pressure. If someone threatens to burn down your house unless you give him $10,000, he is doing psychological violence to you, forcing you to harm yourself in one way in order to avoid being harmed in a worse way. In healthy societies, both of these freedoms are protected by the rule of law.

But there is a third type of freedom, not a freedom from, but a freedom for.

This is called moral or spiritual freedom.

This is an ability built into every human heart.

If used well, it helps us become excellent human beings, wise and honorable.

If we misuse it, we become self-centered, frustrated, and even destructive human beings.

This freedom matters most to Jesus. He wants us to use it well, to become what he created us to be. Christ's life, death, and resurrection were all designed to help us do that, by showing us the way and giving us grace to overcome our selfish tendencies and follow it. The Church, like the watchmen in today's First Reading and the disciples in today's Gospel, continues his mission: patiently and tirelessly warning us against seductive dead-end roads, and inviting us to forge ahead on Christ's path of self-forgetful love.

The choices we make every day, in little things and big things, matter.

Every one of them can bring us closer to God and our true purpose, or further away.

That's the essence of spiritual freedom.

Some theologians say that this is the reason why we will all face two judgments.

The first judgment is called the "particular judgment." This occurs immediately after we die. We go before Christ's throne, and he reveals to us the moral value of all our actions, thoughts, and omissions. At that point, we will no longer be able to hide from the uncomfortable truths about ourselves. And Jesus will also show us (and we will agree one-hundred-percent, because he is perfectly just and perfectly merciful) whether we are destined for heaven or for hell. And if we died in friendship with him and so are destined for heaven, he will show us whether or not we still need to purify some leftover selfish tendencies in purgatory. As the Catechism puts it: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven - through a purification or immediately - or immediate and everlasting damnation" (#1022).] That's the particular judgment that each of us will face immediately after death.

But at the end of history, Jesus will come again, the dead will be resurrected, and there will take place the last or final judgment. This time, we will not only see the moral value of all of our deeds, but we will also see everyone else's. And only then, at the very end of history, will the long-term effects of our good and evil actions be fully evident. All our choices, good and bad, affect not only ourselves, but other people too, who then affect still more people, and so on. As the Catechism puts it: "The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life" (#1039).] Every choice has a ripple effect, for good or for ill. And we will only see the full ripple effect when history is complete, at the last judgment.

When that day comes, it will be full of surprises.

But it's up to each one of us and how we use our moral freedom, whether those surprises will be good or bad.

There are two choices where moral freedom comes into play.

The first kind of choice is right vs. wrong. The difficulty here is not usually in identifying what's right. 90% of the time, we know - if we are honest with ourselves and haven't deformed our conscience - that it is wrong to lie, cheat, steal, gossip, waste time, waste money, and sabotage other people; to lose our patience, hold grudges, use pornography, have sexual relationships outside of marriage, skip Sunday Mass, and abuse drugs or alcohol. In these temptations, the hard part is not seeing what's right; it's choosing what's right. The key here, practically speaking, is to avoid putting ourselves in tempting situations, the occasions of sin - don't go to that party, don't stay so late at work, don't use the credit card so much, etc. And for the times when we can't avoid the tempting situation, the best weapon is a quick prayer to Jesus or the Blessed Virgin Mary: "Lord, help me do what's right."

The second kind of choice is right vs. right. When we're in the cafeteria looking for a friend to sit next too, and we see the new kid, the unpopular kid, sitting all alone, we are faced with a dilemma. We were looking forward to talking with our friend about a project. But it would mean a lot to the new kid if someone reached out to him. Two good options. In these situations, the hard part isn't doing what's right - both are good - it's knowing which to choose. That's when the old saying, "What would Jesus do?" can come in handy. That question often helps us see a win-win solution, like inviting the new kid to sit with me and my friend, killing two birds with one stone.

Whether choosing right vs. wrong or right vs. right, our choices matter, because God has given us the precious gift of spiritual freedom.

Today, let's ask Jesus to help us use it well - every single day.

 

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