Fifth Sunday of Lent – March 17

Jesus writing in the sandCentral Idea: Our joy is in redemption from sin and resurrected life with Christ.

Doctrine: Freedom

Practical Application: Growing in legitimate freedom

To view the readings, click here. (Lectionary: 36)

Central Idea: Our joy is in redemption from sin and resurrected life with Christ.

Is 43:16-21

  • The Lord, who once separated the waters from where they belonged in the Red Sea to destroy his people’s enemies, now makes water appear where it doesn’t belong in the desert to give his people life.
  • The new thing Isaiah speaks of God doing, really, is giving grace to sinners. The water is grace and the desert is the barren, unredeemed condition of mankind.

Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

  • Why did the Chosen People lose the good they had? It was because of their sin, their infidelity to their Father God.
  • God may take away from us things we think are good but are not. He may even take away things that really are good, for a good reason. But he takes them away to give them back or to give back something even better.
  • When God restores your fortunes you are filled with joy. What is the ultimate restoration of fortunes? Saint Paul tells us.

Reading 2 Phil 3:8-14

  • St. Paul says that the supreme good is to attain the resurrection of the dead and to know Christ forever. These are not two goods but one.
  • This supreme good is attained by pursuing the goal in hope of attaining it, assisted by grace. Grace is what St. Paul means by being “taken possession of by Christ Jesus,” a possession which always leaves us free.
  • Another name St. Paul gives for the supreme good is “perfect maturity.” God’s “upward calling” is for us to attain “perfect maturity” so we can gain the goal or prize of our resurrection with Christ in heaven.
  • St. Paul describes the struggle of the man who has been redeemed but is still on earth.

Jn 8:1-11

  • The Mosaic Law was given to teach God’s Chosen People how to live together. Under that Law, adultery was deserving of death.
  • This punishment, which the scribes and Pharisees want Jesus to confirm, seems unduly harsh to us.
    • One reason it seems harsh is the unjust circumstances. The woman is under arrest but not the man with whom she was caught. And the scribes and Pharisees are only using her as a way to attack Our Lord.
    • Another reason this punishment seems harsh is that from our perspective it is. For two thousand years, Christ has been teaching his Church – and through her, human society – the value of mercy.
    • Yet another reason the punishment seems harsh – a reason which is not legitimate – is that our society does not see the gravity of sin anymore.
      • Objectively, a mortal sin, that is, an unrepented gravely evil act performed with full knowledge and freedom, does call for physical punishment on earth and eternal punishment in eternity, because it is a complete rejection of God. Of course we don’t know the degree of objective guilt the woman had and it is not for us to judge the state of her soul.
  • But here we see the “new thing” God wants to do. He wants to save us from our sins, to bring us back from the barren desert of our sinful condition.
  • The so-called “righteous,” like the men in this episode, need this mercy just as much as the blatant out-and-out sinner, like the woman “caught in the act” of adultery.
  • The scribes and Pharisees didn’t realize that the woman they “caught” was just replaying the sad history of the Chosen People.
    • Because of infidelity, Israel went into exile in sorrow but returned redeemed in joy.
    • Because of the sin she was caught committing, the woman went forth in sorrow expecting death by stoning but returned home full of joy because God’s Son rescued her.
  • St. Paul teaches that all the earthly joys and sorrows of life are as nothing because of the returning in joy we look forward to: Resurrection and life in Christ.

Doctrine: Freedom

  • St. Paul tells us he has freely bound himself to Christ in order to attain the greatest prize: “[F]orgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Elsewhere, he explains that “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1) (CCC 1748).
  • The Catechism summarizes the importance of human freedom (CCC 1743-1747):
    • “God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (GS 17 § 1). (1743)
    • “Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good.” (1744)
    • “Freedom characterizes properly human acts. It makes the human being responsible for acts of which he is the voluntary agent. His deliberate acts properly belong to him.” (1745)
    • “The imputability or responsibility for an action can be diminished or nullified by ignorance, duress, fear, and other psychological or social factors.” (1746)
    • “The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in religious and moral matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of man. But the exercise of freedom does not entail the putative right to say or do anything.” (1747)

Practical Application: Growing in legitimate freedom

  • Freedom is the power to do what is right, a power possible for us by our redeemed, grace-assisted human nature. Freedom is also the power to choose what good things to pursue among the huge range of possible goods that surround us.
  • So how free am I?
    • To what extent am I living as a free person, taking responsibility for what I do? Or do I imagine I am caught and overwhelmed by more powerful forces around me? To what extent do I see myself as making the destiny God and I want or do I see myself as a passive victim?
      • To what extent are the things which bind me illegitimate and should be resisted, like a bad habit I’ve acquired?
      • To what extent are they obligations I have freely chosen and so ought to carry through on, like the work required by a job?
      • To what extent do I have natural obligations I should accept and fulfill, like honoring my parents?
    • An important question one can ask is “what one thing that I am not doing now, if I would do it, would make a significant positive effect on me and those around me?” If this thing really is good and in one’s power, wouldn’t it be a great exercise of our Christian freedom to pursue it?
  • In my lawful freedom, I can undertake courses of action that I choose which are legitimate, like my choice to marry or not, to pursue a specific vocation in the Church, or to undertake a kind of work which appeals to me.
  • Finally, we are living in a time when it will likely take a great deal of courage to live out our legitimate freedom. Government power is growing which attempts to force us to teach our children things that are morally wrong. Employers are being forced to provide benefits which they believe are morally wrong. And freedom of speech to state the truth is labeled bigoted illegal hate speech. We are all going to be facing heroic moments in the exercise of our Christian freedom.
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