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Pope Francis Preaches on the Beatitudes, the Holy Spirit and the Law of True Freedom

By Deacon Keith Fournier
June 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This homily invites us to consider the meaning of freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ called us along the path to true freedom with this promise, "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31, 32) The struggle of this age is over the meaning of freedom. It is a contest with extraordinary implications. As Christians, freedom has a specific meaning. Viewing it within that context is the only way we will obtain happiness and human flourishing. It is the only way we will understand these new commandments and be able to live them. That is because we need ongoing conversion in Jesus Christ. (See, Gal. 2:20)

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On Monday, June 10, 2013, the Gospel for Mass was the account of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by St. Matthew. (Mt. 5:1-12)  In what has become a part of my daily routine I read the summary of the homily of Pope Francis offered on the Vatican Radio website.

Some Catholic writers are perturbed that only a summary of these daily homilies offered by Francis at his celebration of Morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta residence are made available. I am not at all. It seems apropos for this papacy. The homilies are prayerful reflections from a simple priest.

He has prayed through the readings and simply wants to feed the faithful by breaking them open as bread. I know that simple priest preaching is Pope Francis, the successor of Peter. But his practice of giving what one priest friend of mine calls his ferverinos (short sermon) is a part of the uniqueness of this papacy. 

Pope Francis called the faithful gathered for Mass to live the Beatitudes, these new commandments of love, by following the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to change them. He made it clear that we can only live these new commandments by having a heart that is open to the Holy Spirit. In fact, we cannot even begin to understand them without having a heart open to the Holy Spirit.

The official Vatican account contained a few quotes and a summary:  "They are the new commandments. But if we do not have a heart open to the Holy Spirit, they will seem silly. 'Just look, being poor, being meek, being merciful will hardly lead us to success'. If we do not have an open heart and if we have not experienced the consolation of the Holy Spirit, which is salvation, we cannot understand this. This is the law for those who have been saved and have opened their hearts to salvation. This is the law of the free, with the freedom of the Holy Spirit. "

Pope Francis continued, "We can regulate our life, according to a list of commands or procedures," but it is a "merely human" list. In the end this "does not lead us to salvation". The Pope recalled that many were interested in "examining", "this new doctrine and then arguing with Jesus." And this was because they "their hearts were closed in on their own concerns", "concerns that God wanted to change."

Pope Francis asked; Why do people "have their hearts closed to salvation?" The Pope said it is because "we are afraid of salvation. We need it, but we are afraid" because when the Lord comes "to save us we have to give everything. He is in charge! And we are afraid of this" because "we want control of ourselves". He added that in order to understand "these new commandments," we need the freedom that "is born of the Holy Spirit, who saves us, who comforts us" and is "the giver of life":

"Today we can now ask the Lord for the grace to follow Him, but with this freedom. Because if we want to follow him with our human freedom alone, in the end we become hypocrites like the Pharisees and Sadducees, those who quarreled with him. This is hypocrisy: not allowing the Spirit to change our hearts with His salvation."

"The freedom of the Spirit, which the Spirit gives us, is also a kind of slavery, of being 'enslaved' to the Lord which makes us free, it is another freedom. Instead, our freedom is only slavery, but not to the Lord, but to the spirit of the world. Let us ask for the grace to open our hearts to the consolation of the Holy Spirit, so that this consolation, which is salvation, allows us to understand these commandments. So be it! "

This homily invites us to consider the meaning of freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ called us along the path to true freedom with this promise, "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31, 32) The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians Christians, "For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1)

The struggle of this age is over the meaning of freedom. It is a contest with extraordinary implications. Almost every contemporary concern that we face can be positioned within this struggle. As Christians, freedom has a specific meaning. Viewing it within that context is the only way we will obtain happiness and human flourishing. It is the only way we will understand these new commandments and be able to live them. That is because we need ongoing conversion in Jesus Christ. (See, Gal. 2:20)

Freedom has consequences. Our choices have the capacity to not only change the world around us, but they make us to be the kinds of persons we become. The capacity to make choices is what makes us human persons. What we choose either humanizes us further or leads us, ultimately, into slavery. The capacity to choose reflects the Imago Dei, the Image of God, present within every human person.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, "Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man." (Gaudium et Spes, "Joy and Hope" #17) We should listen closely to the voices using the word freedom. What do they mean by the word? We need to heed the voices of authentic freedom.

We are fortunate to have three Popes proclaim authentic freedom with clarity. The vision of human freedom they proclaim exposes contemporary counterfeit notions of freedom. Blessed John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis insist upon the necessary connection between freedom and truth. They remind us of freedom's obligations to view the other as another self. This is the law of freedom Pope Francis spoke of in his homily.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned of a dictatorship of relativism at work in the secularist and materialist age in which we live. He opined that the antidote is the message of authentic freedom which insists that there is such a thing as truth, which can be known through the exercise of reason. Freedom must be exercised in relationship to this truth. Otherwise, it is illusory and leads to new forms of slavery and anarchy.   

In 2005 he told an assembly of families: "Today's various forms of dissolution of marriage, free unions, trial marriages as well as the pseudo-matrimonies between people of the same sex are instead expressions of anarchic freedom which falsely tries to pass itself off as the true liberation of man. This kind of anarchic freedom is what Blessed John Paul referred to as a counterfeit notion of freedom.  He warned us in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, that it will lead to the "death of true freedom."

According to Benedict this was Blessed John Paul II's mission, "when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life, from its conception until natural death."

Exposing "erroneous interpretations of freedom" and proclaiming the truth concerning freedom is the task Pope Francis is also embarking upon. This brief homily on the Beatitudes reminds us that understanding and living this kind of freedom requires the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives because it requires our conversion. 

By calling what is always wrong a right, contemporary men and women are becoming bound by the chains of their own self delusion, materialism and nihilism; imprisoned by the lie of what Benedict called "anarchic freedom."

To an age enamored with so many false concepts of freedom the Catholic Church proclaims the unchangeable truth that some choices are always and everywhere wrong - choosing them does not make one free, rather it erodes authentic human freedom and leads to slavery and tyranny.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the wrong exercises of human freedom reminding us of the extraordinary implications of our use of our power to choose: "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (CCC, 1861.)

True Freedom is not about the fact that we can choose, it is about how and what we choose. Freedom will never be found in decisions that are made against God and against the Natural Law. The struggle of this age is between anarchic freedom and authentic freedom. Pope Francis stands on the shoulders of his two great predecessors in pointing the way to that kind of freedom.

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