I preached this homily in 2007. It makes reference, therefore, to the reformed lectionary. I offer it today for the readers of Vultus Christi who may be hearing these same texts today.
Wednesday of the 5th Week of Lent
Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25, 28
Daniel 3: 29-30, 31, 33, 32, 34 (R. 29b)
Freedom is one of those words that, as soon as it is pronounced, seems to elevate one’s blood pressure. Folks become passionately defensive about their freedom. The question is, “What do we mean by freedom?” In contemporary culture, tragically, the word has been paired with two other words: “to choose.” The freedom to choose. Far from referring to the noble freedom of the God’s adopted children, delivered out of slavery, to receive the Word of God and, in its light, choose the things that are pleasing to Him, it has come to refer, among other things, to what the proponents of abortion call, “a woman’s freedom to choose.’
The freedom to choose has become a slogan in some circles. It becomes the justification for every manner of self-indulgence, idiosyncracy, sin, perversion, and cruelty. The “free to choose” mentality of the world has infiltrated even the minds of some Catholics. It has spawned the exaggerated cult of options, liturgical and otherwise. There are those who choose from among the teachings of Church, carefully avoiding whatever challenges their sin and unsettles their moral constructs. The criteria are purely subjective: “I will choose what works for me and, if it doesn’t work for me, I need not choose it.”
The Greek word for heretic derives from airesis, meaning choice. Heretics were simply the choosers, those who instead of accepting the faith of the Church in its integrity, chose what pleased them and rejected what displeased them. There is in each of us one who wants always to choose. To choose by one’s own lights, or even worse, by one’s own tastes, preferences, and needs, is to court spiritual disaster.
In the Light of God
In today’s Collect we beg God to enlighten our hearts. The light for which we pray is the splendour of truth. For one who lives in the light of God, every other “light” is darkness.
Merciful God, enlighten the hearts of Thy children,
hallowed by penitence,
and in Thy lovingkindness,
graciously give ear to the suppliant people
upon whom Thou bestowest the spirit of devotion.
Attachment to one’s own “lights” and choices is the earmark of pride. One becomes one’s own reference. One stands outside the community of Tradition. One trusts one’s own insights and cultivates a systematic suspicion of anything handed on. The person who chooses one thing necessarily rejects a multitude of others. The Evil One is perniciously clever when it comes to twisting good things to his own ends. If you have any doubt about that, re-read C.S. Lewis’s, The Screwtape Letters, a book that, belying its amusing literary style, is deadly serious.
Today Our Lord tells us what freedom is; He tells us how we can be set free. “If you continue faithful to my word, you are my disciples in earnest; so you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). To continue faithful to the Word of Christ is to receive it from the Church as she dispenses it in the Sacred Liturgy day by day. It is to hear it proclaimed in the assembly of the faithful, the Communion of the Saints. It is to receive it from the lips of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and, in our own day, from the lips of the Pope and the bishops teaching in communion with him.
To continue faithful to the Word of Christ is to believe it, staking our lives on what we have heard. It is to repeat what we have heard, holding it, and turning it over ceaselessly in our hearts. It is the Word at work in us that makes us disciples in earnest. Only in a relationship of discipleship — that is by the free acceptance of the discipline — the gentle yoke — of Christ — can we come to know the truth. It is that truth, acquired not cheaply, but dearly and at a personal cost, that in the end sets us free.
The Hermeneutic of Discontinuity
In his momentous address of December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI warned us of the danger of passing the truth through the filter of what he called “a certain hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.” The Holy Father reviewed the more than forty years gone by since the close of the Second Vatican Council and observed that alongside of its good fruits, there has been no small measure of confusion and discord, inadequacies and mistakes. I give you his own words:
The problems [in the implementation of the Council] arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.
On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
Rootedness in Sacred Tradition
The freedom for which we were created, the freedom we all seek, comes not from any rupture with Tradition, but rather from a rootedness in its incomparably rich humus. Rootedness is very close to humility. The humble person, the humble community has roots going deep into the soil of Tradition. Therefore the humble person, the humble community will bear abundant fruits of holiness.
These days of Passiontide invite us to zeal for the sacred liturgy and generosity in prayer. The fruits of Passiontide are abandonment to the will of God in every infirmity, darkness, and contradiction, simplicity, joy, and a burning love for Jesus in the mysteries of His suffering and death. If you would know freedom, look with love and compunction at Jesus bound to the column and nailed to the wood of the Cross. In Him, we have “salvation, life and resurrection: through Him are we saved and set free” (cf. Gal 6:14).