I’ve been thinking a bit about freedom these past few days. My ponderings are prompted mostly by the first reading of yesterday’s liturgy. Moses encounters God on the mount, and comes down to the people bringing ‘the law’.
The people were delighted. They welcomed this direct and relevant communication from God, and enshrined the tablets of stone on which the finger of God had written, in a gold treasury: the ‘ark of the covenant’.
Their positive reaction to these commandments might puzzle us today. Who would ever be happy receiving rules?
A couple of years ago a group of us who had been ordained priests in the same year, gathered for a few days in Queenstown. It was good to be together. We talked a lot, prayed, laughed and talked some more. A highlight of every day was dinner together at one of the great local restaurants.
On our first evening one of our number, Kevin left the table and went over to the piano where he began to play. He is a superb musician. I remember this from seminary days together. While he is an accomplished classical pianist, he played that night what was more suitable for the restaurant. Jazz.
He had no music with him. But he did not need it. His years of disciplined study of music and weekly hours of practice had enabled him to play the most elastic jazz with the ultimate freedom. He did this so well that the restaurant employed him as their musician each night of our stay. Later each night I went to sleep hearing Kevin play still more in the next room of the house where we stayed.
Freedom is not an absence of rules. Instead it is a knowledge of and obedience to the rules that make life possible.
In his series Catholicism, Fr Robert Barron begins his reflection on the Beatitudes reminding us that the first word of the beatitudes is “happy”. How do we relate this deep ‘joy’ to the ‘law’.
Our problem is our ‘modern’ attitude to freedom. We think that freedom is achieved when I can do what I want, whenever I want. This is not freedom. This is anarchy!
On our Christchurch Diocese priests’ retreat last year, Fr. Robert Barron reflected on discipline as the path to freedom. He defined freedom not as getting what i want, but instead as a ‘freedom FOR excellence’.
Kevin’s ability on the piano is truly excellent. The restaurant staff and patrons certainly thought so. But the fact that he could play so effortlessly, taking requests, and adapting his playing to every mood, without reading from a script, was the fruit of discipline.
In the life of the Church (teaching and worship), and the gospels, Jesus is placing before us the method by which joy is received.
There is a way of testing the truth of what I am sharing. Lent is a good time to accept a challenge I now offer.
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what the scriptures and the church teaches. Perhaps we see these teaching as a smorgasboard of pick and choose possibilities, rather than the letter of the law of life.
Here is the challenge. Decide now that you will spend the rest of Lent striving to live by the letter of every law of the scriptures and of the church.
Some suggestions: love of neighbour, forgiveness of enemy, charity, justice, daily prayer, Sunday Mass, regular confession, sexual morality, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked… Perhaps one or two of the more challenging aspects of the ‘law of God’ come to mind easily for us. Well, these could be the ones I most need to focus on.
I guarantee that if you embrace this adventure over the next three weeks, you will notice a change in your life that delights you.
And this is the point. God has created us to be happy. And more than this, in the law of the gospels and the teachings of the Church, God has highlighted the pathway to earthly happiness.