Freedom! If there is one thing that most Americans know about, it is freedom. Our Bill of Rights enumerates several freedoms that we hold dear: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom to petition the Government, freedom to keep and bear arms, freedom against unreasonable search, etc. Most of the Bill of Rights speak of freedom. It could be said that freedom itself is a right held by all people.
Today’s reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians speaks of freedom from the Mosaic Law. Most of us know the Ten Commandments of the Law by heart, but let us not forget that there are actually 613 commandments contained in the Torah, or Law. St. Paul argues that placing oneself under the burden of these commandments is akin to enslaving ourselves to the Law. Indeed, one finds either that people feel Christianity is restrictive of a ‘normal’ human life or that it consists of living a restricted life for the sake of some future salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are not saved by obedience to the commandments. Our salvation is a free gift that comes from God as an unconditional guarantee if we place our faith in Jesus. No one ever saved themselves. God is the only source of salvation. Obedience to the commandments is a response, not a prerequisite for salvation. As St. Augustine put it, “Love God and do what you will.”
Does this mean that we can ignore the commandments? Obviously not. However, our obedience of the commandments should not be looked upon as a guarantee of salvation or as a way to “buy ourselves a place in heaven.” Our obedience is a response to God’s gift of freedom. Think of your response to someone who has given you a gift, any gift. At the very least, we need to express our thanks for the gift to the gift-giver. The response should be in direct proportion to the gift itself. If someone gives me a dollar, a simple “thank you” may seem appropriate. If someone gives me $10,000, our gratitude should be more than two simple words.
What gift could be more extravagant, more gracious, more generous than the gift of eternal life, a gift that we receive for simply believing that Jesus died for our sins and that He is the Lord of Life. Consequently, our grateful response must also be extravagant, gracious and generous. “Love God and do what you will.” If we truly love God and are grateful for what God has done for us, our obedience is not a kind of slavery. It is, rather, the freedom to act extravagantly, graciously and generously. “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, by your love for one another,” a love that generously responds to God’s unconditional love.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator