Part Seven – Easter Sunday
Holy Week and The Paschal Mysteries: Living Freedom, Living Peace
In preparation to write this seven-part Holy Week Homily series, I have spent much of the past two weeks studying the Scriptures which were proclaimed this past Holy Week, as well as a great deal of time refreshing my memory of and studying European History as well as reflecting on what I learned from those studies. Given recent events in Eastern Europe, I have also considered all these things as I reflected on the experience of the children of Fatima and the words of the Blessed Mother, shared with them during what was once called the Great War, the war to end all wars.
The Word of God during this week spoke of prophesy and fulfillment, tragedy and triumph, sin and salvation. Additionally, it has spoken of covenant and betrayal, love and hate, humility and pride. European history can be said to speak of all these same things. In brief, the scriptures testify to God’s enduring love which ceaselessly offers by way of the Cross of Christ, the only way of freedom for us and peace in the world. European history, indeed, the history of mankind from its outset, attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart as a consequence of the abuse of freedom. History testifies to man’s great in humanity to man, sometimes in the name of God and always contrary to the way, truth and life of Christ.
On May 5, 1917, Pope Benedict XV wrote a pastoral letter to the world, asking the faithful to petition Mary to bring an end to the war, "that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world." Eight days later, Mary appeared for the first time, on May 13, to three shepherd children.
In 1947 speaking of Fatima, a Dominican Priest named Fr. Vincent Ferrer McHenry said, “To overcome these causes [of war], Mary had to lead souls to peace. How profoundly did she understand that true peace flows only from union with God! From the moment the Lord had done great things to her, Mary had realized the meaning of peace. She knew that without Christ, the “way and the truth, and the life” Jn 14:6, there could be no peace in the souls of her children and none in the world. Despite the present indications of the nearness of war, the world can still obtain the peace promised by our Lady at Fatima, if enough souls meditate on the mysteries of her Rosary and imitate the goodness it contains.”
I agree with Fr. McHenry, Despite the present indications of the nearness of war, the world can still obtain the peace promised by our Lady at Fatima, if enough souls meditate on the mysteries of her Rosary and imitate the goodness it contains.”
One of the key elements of the message of Fatima is the summoning of the children of God to make reparation for personal sins and the sins of others, to become conduits of the mercy of God so that, if we can help it, no soul will be lost. Our Lady showed the 3 children the fires of hell and asked them to pray and offer penance for the conversion of sinners. “You see Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. See, my daughter, my Heart encircled by thorns with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. Do you, at least, strive to console me. Tell them that I promise to assist at the hour of death with the graces necessary for salvation all those who, in order to make reparation to me, on the First Saturday of five successive months, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, say five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for a quarter of an hour, meditating on the ... mysteries of the Rosary. “When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: ‘O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.’”
Mary also said to the children of Fatima, that “To prevent this [grave consequence of sins], I shall come to the world to ask that Russia be consecrated to my Immaculate Heart, and I shall ask that on the First Saturday of every month communions of reparation be made in atonement for the sins of the world. If my wishes are fulfilled, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, then Russia will spread her errors throughout the world, bringing new wars and persecution of the Church; the good will be martyred, and the Holy Father will have much to suffer; certain nations will be annihilated.”
The reference to Russia was not the county whose borders we know today. The Russia of those early days of the 20thCentury was much vaster, extending farther north, west and south. Nor is it a general reference to the Russian people of the time. Many of the people within its borders and reaching back into history were faithful disciples of Christ. It is undeniable and incredible that the faith gave rise to a great devotion to Mary Mother of God, as is evidenced in the number of shrines and Churches dedicated to her as well in art, and architecture. Prior to our modern age, no one would be surprised to hear of Russia being described as the ‘house of Mary’. No, the reference is much more focused on the ideologies, philosophies and governing systems that would seek to separate the children of God from their Father and annihilate the knowledge of the love of God within them, represented most clearly and immediately by the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution who were soon to take power and usher in an as yet unended tyranny of the Godless, the unrepentant carriers of the heart of Cain.
Before she died Sister Lucia, the last surviving of the three children of Fatima said that this third part of the secret is a symbolic revelation, conditioned by whether we accept or not what the message itself asks of us. And that, Since we did not heed this appeal of the Message, we see that it has been fulfilled, Russia has invaded the world with her errors. And if we have not yet seen the complete fulfilment of the final part of this prophecy, we are going towards it little by little with great strides. If we do not reject the path of sin, hatred, revenge, injustice, violations of the rights of the human person, immorality and violence, etc. And let us not say that it is God who is punishing us in this way; on the contrary it is people themselves who are preparing their own punishment. In his kindness God warns us and calls us to the right path, while respecting the freedom he has given us; hence people are responsible.
Mary also said, “But in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she will be converted, and the world will enjoy a period of peace.” At this promise of Mary we are reminded that Sister Lucia described an affirming vision in which she saw, “At left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated toward him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’”
Thus, on this day of the resurrection of our saving Lord, on this day on which we celebrate our own rebirth as children of God, we are reminded of our mission in the world. We are reminded of our great and ever-present responsibility as members of the Body of Christ the Church.
The suffering sacrificial love of Christ is possible because of the humility and obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father. In the freedom of Christ, which is ours, our only escape from the horrors of a darkened world is the increase of the family of God and among them an increase of humility and obedience to the will of the Father so as to live freely that same salvific sacrificial love of God.
Christ is for us an example of what is necessary for our triumph over sin and to live in freedom and peace. Jesus heard and did what the Father desired, he listened and was obedient. He was and remains moved by his love to encounter us in our depravity and communicate grace so that we might be transformed and enter that new life of freedom in truth.
In the garden, Jesus stands authoritatively firm and charitable to those who came to arrest him, even to Judas who betrays him with a kiss. In the face of ridicule and interrogation, he maintains his dignity and remains steadfastly resolved. During the betrayals of Peter, the silence and absence of the other apostles and the lukewarm faith of the ones who followed him; he continues to think of nothing but the needs of humanity, forgiveness of the persecutor’s crimes, and the coming victory of his love over death and darkness.
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 Saint Paul, in Chapter 5 of the letter to the Galatians, speaks of freedom and calls for total commitment to Christ which is to be lived in total freedom by the power God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Created in the image and likeness of God, we have a deep desire to know and a great capacity to understand. Freedom in fact, presupposes knowledge of the truth, the truth that sets us free. John 8:32 and ignorance is an obstacle to freedom.
We were created in the image and likeness of God. We were free. We fell from this original state of grace and entered the fallen state by original sin, which in our birth, no one escapes. Due to original sin, we, in our fallen state are inclined to sin. Christ died to set us free from sin. Our hope is in him, for having died in Christ I also rise in Christ, freed to fulfill the call to holiness, to remain free and unbound by sin. If we are to accomplish God’s plan for us, we will need His grace and abiding presence; "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
Saving and sacramental grace allows for the full exercise of human freedom, the proper use of which, enables us to gradually align our will with God’s. As this happens, we experience increased perfection of intellect, allowing us to determine good from evil and, free will increases in us the ability to choose between good and evil. As we choose more frequently the good, we increase in perfection. However, continued rejection of God through choosing of evil increases the chains of sin that bind and further disables us from recognizing, choosing and being able to do the good.
The freedom that we have been given by God, no person of state can take away. It is freedom for love. It is not freedom from responsibility or restriction. It is freedom to establish a loving relationship with Jesus Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. A person who chooses to reject this call becomes a slave to his passions, and over time loses the freedom to choose.
We experience our freedom as limited precisely because we are limited. Original innocence and freedom were lost through original sin. Since true freedom is rooted in the truth about man, we must individually and as a human community constantly more deeply discover and rediscover our nature and identity in relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the only way that true human freedom can and will be properly and ultimately oriented towards communion and the common good.
Freedom and truth are inextricably intertwined, but not inseparable. The intimate relationship between freedom and truth is broken when a person tries to determine what is right and wrong according to his likes and dislikes. The proper use of freedom increases our capacity to know the truth and grow in love of moral virtue.
The Christian believes that God set down the good we ought to do and to avoid the evil we ought not to do. Jesus clearly set out what is good by his words and the conduct of his life. Hence, Christian morality is the most effective means of acquiring the dignity proper to us because it is a morality of imitating Jesus Christ. This entails a development of all our faculties—being intelligent, free, and, consequently, responsible for our actions. Right moral conduct perfects the human being, and wrong moral conduct degrades the human being.
God created us free, and in Christ, God frees us once more. We cannot blame God for the human evils that find their origins in the abuse of our freedom. We are not puppets on a sting attached to a stick in the hand of God. As children of God, although we are inclined to sin, we are not bound to sin. Original freedom and freedom in Christ never mean that we are free from personal responsibility. There is no such thing as a freedom that is independent of responsibility. To abuse our freedom is to sin because in doing so, we are acting contrary to our nature which is against the will of God. Freedom makes man responsible for his acts and progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.
Freedom is the power that a person has over his own acts and this power can only be exercised to the extent that correct moral choices have been made habitually. In this way we become virtuosos of the moral life (saints) When the conscience is properly formed, one sees the true harmony between morally binding just laws and human freedom. To be free, we must plan to make the correct choices and carry them through. At the end of each day, one ought to examine his conscience to understand the results of all the moral choices and eliminate things that lead to sin, as well as seek the graces available in those sacraments through which we receive forgiveness and new strength.
A question that I often get asked by students and adults alike is, ‘how I can actually keep from sinning, from committing the same sins over and over again! They passionately and sincerely express desire to know the freedom that is promised in scripture.
There is no doubt, for anyone that has read scripture, that Christ sets us free, and would like us to stay that way. He’d like us to continue to be free from sin so as to grow in holiness and avoid ‘backsliding’. He would like us to be holy and stay holy. Seems like an impossible task! But what kind of God sets before us a call to what is impossible? Certainly not the God that we believe in. Our God calls as to be holy and promises that with our cooperation, God’s grace will get us there.
So, let’s focus on our part of this effort. There’s good news! We can cut the goal into realistic and reachable portions. So how do we do that one day, one week at a time.
Now you’re rooted in keeping your focus on Jesus and now you can be more sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is trying to guide you every single day. It’s really just one day at a time. Don’t look back to the ‘stuff’ that you’ve been freed from, rejoice in a brighter future. Whoever and whatever it is that makes you a slave to sin, walk away. If you need help, get some. Embrace the freedom and love that you were made for. Count your blessings every night and thank God for one more day, every morning.
Over time you’ll begin to notice the changes in you, your relationships and that you are more fully free than ever before. You’ll be able to say, even though I’m still struggling with overcoming a particular sin or temptation, by the grace of God, personal effort, prayer and prayerful support of others… I am living victory because I am better than before, stronger than before. I have a victory attitude, not a victim attitude!
Of course, if you happen to have really slipped, the Sacrament of Reconciliation can catch you and bring you back to solid ground and freedom.
To understand more about Grace: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c3a2.htm
To understand more about Freedom: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p3s1c1a3.htm
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.