The Church teaches us how to be free and happy
August 31, 2023
By Father Vincent Hawkswell
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: Ez 33:7-9
Second Reading: Rom 13:8-10
Gospel Reading: Mt 18:15-20
In the readings this Sunday, God commands Ezekiel to “warn the wicked to turn from their ways” and Jesus tells his disciples to “point out the fault” of a brother or sister who sins against them.
The Catholic Church obeys these directives, proclaiming right and wrong to the whole world. However, the world retorts, “Don’t impose your values on me!”
Certainly we must not impose our values on others by force. “The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom,” Pope John Paul II said; her mission “does not restrict freedom, but rather promotes it.”
The moral laws, which govern our souls, are very different from the physical laws, which govern our bodies. However, there is one way in which they are the same: we cannot change them. We can ignore them, or try to free ourselves from them, but they still damage or even destroy us.
There is no freedom from the moral law, but only freedom within it, just as a person who respects the law of gravity is more free than one who tries to escape it. To attain this freedom, we must know what the law is. In teaching us the moral laws, therefore, the Church is promoting, not restricting, our freedom.
In the first media interview of his pontificate, just before leaving for World Youth Day in Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI said that he wanted to show young people “how beautiful it is to be Christian, because the widespread idea which continues to exist is that Christianity is composed of laws and bans which one has to keep and, hence, is something toilsome and burdensome – that one is freer without such a burden.” On the contrary, he said, being Christian “is like having wings.”
In his initial address to the young people, he expressed a wish that they might find in World Youth Day “a liberating experience of the Church as the place where God’s merciful love reaches out to all people.” (Indeed, as St. Paul says, the law can be summed up as “love God and love your neighbour as yourself.”)
Young people today, the Pope said, ask questions: “Where do I find standards to live by? What are the criteria that govern responsible cooperation in building the present and the future of our world? On whom can I rely? To whom shall I entrust myself? Where is the one who can offer me the response capable of satisfying my heart’s deepest desires?”
Young people, he said, are “searching for someone who can neither deceive nor be deceived, and who therefore can offer a certainty so solid that we can live for it and, if need be, even die for it.”
In his address at the World Youth Day Vigil, the Pope called God “the guarantor of our freedom,” because he is “the guarantor of what is really good and true.”
He repeated what he had said earlier: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing –absolutely nothing – of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”
“Be completely convinced of this,” he added: “Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection for the glory of God, the happiness of men and women, and the salvation of the world.”
To attain this perfection, we must know what the moral laws are, and we can know what they are with certainty only by listening to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Let us pray, therefore, not only that the Church will never tire of proclaiming the Gospel, but also that (as the Pope said) the world will be captivated and say: “This is the answer we have been waiting for!”
Father Hawkswell is again teaching The Catholic Faith in Plain English with new insights, in both print and YouTube form, at beholdvancouver.org/catholic-faith-course. He is also teaching the course in person on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre, 4885 Saint John Paul II Way, 33rd Avenue and Willow Street, Vancouver, and Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon in St. Anthony’s Church Hall, 2347 Inglewood Avenue, West Vancouver. Next week’s topic is Creation and the Fall. The course is entirely free of charge and no pre-registration is necessary.