Freedom, A Gift from God | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
I have often reminded you of that moving scene in the Gospel where Jesus is in Peter’s boat, from which he has been speaking to the people. The multitude following him has stirred the eagerness for souls which consumes his heart, and now the Divine Master wants his disciples to share his zeal. After telling them to launch out into the deep, duc in altum! he suggests to Peter that he let down his nets for a catch.
I am not going to linger now over the details of what happened, although there is much to be learned from them. What I would like you to consider with me is how the Prince of the Apostles reacts to the miracle he has just seen: ‘Lord, depart from me,’ he says, ‘for I am a sinful man.’ This is true and I am quite sure it applies perfectly to the personal situation of each one of us. Nevertheless, I assure you that having witnessed during my life so many marvellous works of divine grace performed through human hands, I feel moved, and more so each day, to shout out, ‘Lord, do not depart from me, for without you I can do no good at all.’
Precisely because of this, I readily understand those words of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, which ring out like a wonderful hymn to freedom, ‘God who created you without you, will not save you without you’. Every single one of us, you and I as well, always has the possibility, the unfortunate possibility of rising up against God, of rejecting him (perhaps by our behavior) or of crying out, ‘we do not want this man to rule over us’.
We have learned with gratitude, because it makes us realize the happiness we are being called to, that all creatures have been created out of nothing by God and for God: both men, who are rational creatures, although we so often act unreasonably, and the irrational beings who roam the surface of the earth, or burrow in its inmost recesses, or sail the azure skies — some soaring so high that they come face to face with the sun. But in all this wonderful variety, it is only we men (I am not referring now to the angels) who can unite ourselves to the Creator by using our freedom. We are in a position to give him, or deny him, the glory that is his due as the Author of everything that exists.
This possibility makes up the light and shade of human freedom. Our Lord invites us, urges us to choose the good, so tenderly does he love us! ‘See, today I set before you a choice between life and death, good and evil. If you pay heed to the commandments of Yahweh your God which I command you this day, by loving Yahweh your God, by walking in his ways and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live… Choose life, that you may live.’
Ask yourself now (I too am examining my conscience) whether you are holding firmly and unshakeably to your choice of Life? When you hear the most lovable voice of God urging you on to holiness, do you freely answer ‘Yes’? Let us turn our gaze once more to Jesus, as he speaks to the people in the towns and countryside of Palestine. He doesn’t want to force himself upon us. ‘If you have a mind to be perfect…’, he says to the rich young man. The young man refused to take the hint, and the Gospel goes on to say: abiit tristis, he went away forlorn. That is why I have sometimes called him the ‘sad lad’. He lost his happiness because he refused to hand over his freedom to God.
Consider now the sublime moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary the plans of the Most High. Our Mother listens, and asks a question to understand better what the Lord is asking of her. Then she gives her firm reply: Fiat! Be it done unto me according to thy word! This is the fruit of the best freedom of all, the freedom of deciding in favor of God.
This hymn to freedom is echoed in all the mysteries of our Catholic faith. The Blessed Trinity draws the world and man out of nothing, in a free outpouring of love. The Word comes down from Heaven and takes on our flesh, an act which bears the splendid mark of freedom in submission: ‘Behold I have come to do thy Will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ When God’s appointed time comes to save mankind from the slavery of sin, we contemplate Jesus Christ in Gethsemani, suffering in agony to the point of sweating blood. He spontaneously and unconditionally accepts the sacrifice which the Father is asking of him: ‘Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep standing dumb before its shearers.’ He had already told his disciples that this was to happen, in one of those conversations where he would pour out his heart so that those who love him might know that he is the Way, the only way, to approach the Father. ‘This is why my Father loves me, because I am laying down my life to take it up again afterwards. Nobody can rob me of it; I lay it down of my own accord. I am free to lay it down and free to take it up again.’
“Freedom, A Gift from God” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on April 10, 1956. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Christ is Passing By”.