A Word from Father John Sheehan

July 1, 2018

This week the United States celebrates its Independence Day, the 4th of July. When I was a sophomore in college I spent the year at the University of Innsbruck – and I learned more about my country, the United States of America, living in that neutral and small country in 1965 and 66 – heavy cold war going on then, for those too young to remember – than ever I did the previous 18. Sometimes you need to step away in order to see things more clearly. I saw some of the faults – there are always people delighted to point those out – and I realized a lot of the virtues that I had taken for granted.

There will be a lot of rhetoric bandied about this week and probably the one word that will be used more than any other is freedom. It is the anniversary, the celebration of a movement to freedom. The Declaration of Independence should be read by everyone. It is a very strong piece, even today, and says a lot of things that need to be said. Often.

But lest this turn into a political speech – I was caught with the idea of freedom precisely because over the years I have been increasingly in awe at the freedom that God has given to us. From the Garden of Eden to the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth to the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church  and even the election of a new Pope – if we accept the idea that the Holy Spirit is at work in these events, there has been a commitment to freedom that is, by our lights, quite startling. God does not command – God invites – but he will not force us. Why didn’t Jesus simply come down from the cross? Why can’t priests perform miracles? Why doesn’t God just tell us what he wants in letters of fire across the sky?

Without presuming the know the mind of God, I think one reason might be that God does not want to do anything that will so tip the balance that our freedom, our ability to choose, is impaired. Unduly influenced. God gave us free will and ever since has worked scrupulously to avoid interfering with that. Jesus invited – but when the rich young man turned away, Jesus did not go after him. He had put forward the invitation – and the young man made another choice. He did not perform a miracle in front of Pilate or Herod, a simple enough act that would have spared his life. God does not write in letters of fire – he has told us what he wants but in ways that can be dismissed by those who don’t want to make that choice. As for miracles – ah, what is a miracle. G.K. Chesterton once said that he couldn’t tell what was the greater miracle – God creating the earth and setting it on its evolutionary, biological, scientific path – or God creating each daffodil every day. He said he rather preferred the second notion but could live in peace with those who choose the first.

Choice – it seems to be a key word with God. For whatever reason, and I confess, I do not have any great or unusual insights into why, for whatever reason, God wants us to choose Him. To choose to follow his commandments. To choose heaven over the other place. And if there is any message I would want to deliver as strongly and earnestly and passionately as I can it is that there is an other place and that how we fare in getting there is strictly a matter of choice and the choice is ours and ours alone.

It is, however, perhaps misleading to speak of choice, in the singular. It is a series of choices, made every day. It was not a single choice for me to become a priest – it was a whole course of choices, and it is a choice I continue to make every day. Those who are married, I suspect it is the same thing – the choice to be married is the result of many choices, and the choice to stay married is made every day. So also with God – the choice to follow God, whatever our state of life, is not a choice but a series of choices – how do I respond to this moment, to this temptation, to this opportunity, to this person – is God a part of my every day life or is He a Sunday event – a holiday remembrance – part of a childhood ritual that I keep for my sake and perhaps to try and share something of my past with my children. How often during a day do I think of God?

In many speeches in many places this week, Americans will be reminded of their freedom – a freedom that was hard won in the 1700’s and has been hard defended ever since. That freedom is the result of choices – a whole series of choices made over the centuries by men and women who felt that this freedom was something worth working for and fighting for and dying for. Freedom is not a one-time event – not one election or one ruler or one war. It is the result of a series of choices and the deep and personal acceptance of a way of life by a whole group of people. For freedom as we understand it to work it must be something important in the life of the people – something worth making a sacrifice for, something worth living for. In the United States of America it has been, and it is, and there will be many prayers offered that it will continue to be for many years to come. It has not been thus in other countries, including Nigeria where I spent several years and even in the Marshall Islands where I spent several more, and I pray that it will come to be for these people soon and will become a part of their lives and will live in these and other countries for many years to come.

The same is true of the freedom we enjoy from God – the invitation has been given, and we are to answer it, every day – and our faith is the result of the series of choices that we make. Every day. All day. As with the political freedom enjoyed by Americans, it involves the deep personal acceptance of a whole way of life. A way of life – how we live.

So as some people celebrate one freedom, let us also remember another – the freedom we have from God to choose. Let us reflect on our choices, our way of living – and choose to choose God whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Let us continue to pray for one another.

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POPE’S PRAYER INTENTION FOR  JULY

 

Priests and their Pastoral Ministry
That priests, who experience fatigue and loneliness in their pastoral work, may find help and comfort in their intimacy with the Lord and in their friendship with their brother priests.

 

 

 

The Jesuit Center
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Email: pastorsh@jordanjesuits.org

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