Liberty Just in Case

A Dialogue for the September 12th World

A Deep, Deep Homily From the New Pope

Posted by Mark on December 10, 2005

One of the hardest decisions of my life was when I decided not to become a Roman Catholic nearly 15 years ago. It put a rift between my in-laws and myself that will never completely heal. Yet I know it was the right decision for me, my wife, and my two children. We are firmly established in a conservative Episcopal Church (yes there are some around) here in the far western suburbs of Chicago.

Though not Roman Catholic, I have followed the new Pope with a sense of wonder and awe. He has stepped in to some very big shoes, and has made the office his own. This homily, given on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is one of the deepest treatises on original sin, and the true meaning of liberty I’ve ever read. Here’s a couple of excerpts:

What is the picture placed before us in this page? Man did not trust God. He harboured the suspect that God, at the end of the day, was taking something from his life, that God was a competitor who limits our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have put him aside; all in all, that only in this way can we fully realize our freedom. Man lives in the suspicion that the love of God creates a dependency and that it is necessary to get rid of this dependency to be fully oneself. Man does not want to receive his existence and fullness of life from God. He wants to be the one to draw from the tree of knowledge the power to mould the world, to make himself god, raising himself to His level, and to win over death and darkness. He does not want to count on love which does not seem trustworthy to him; he counts only on knowledge in that it confers power upon him. Rather than love, he aims for power with which he wants to take his own life in his hands, to be autonomous. And in doing so, he places his trust in deceit rather than in truth and thus, he sinks with his life into a void, into death. Love is not dependence but a gift which gives us life. The freedom of mankind is the freedom to be a creature with limitations and that is therefore a limitation in itself. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom; only if we live in the right way with each other and for each other can freedom develop. However, we live in the right way if we live according to the truth of our being and that is, according to the will of God. For God’s will for man is not a law imposed from outside which forces him, but an intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure which is inscribed in him, making him in the image of God, therefore a free creature. If we live against love and against truth – against God – then we destroy each other and we destroy the world. Then we will no longer find life, but we will serve the interests of death. All this is narrated with immortal images in the story of original sin and the banishment of man from the earthly Paradise.

And this:

Dear brothers and sisters! If we reflect sincerely about ourselves and our history, we must say that this account describes not only the beginning of history but history throughout the ages, and that we all carry inside us a drop of poison of that way of thinking illustrated in the images of the Book of Genesis. This drop of poison is called original sin. Even on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the suspect emerges in us that a person who does not sin at all is really boring; that something is missing in his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the freedom to say no is part of truly being men, the descent into the darkness of sin and to do as one pleases; that only then will one be able to exploit completely the vastness and depth of being men, of being truly ourselves; that we must put this liberty to the test even against God to become in reality fully ourselves. In a word, we think that really evil is good, at least a little, we need to experiment the fullness of being. We think that Mephistopheles – the tempter – was right when he said he was the strength “which always wants evil and always does good” (J.W. v. Goethe, Faust I, 3). We think that bargaining a little with evil, reserving some freedom against God, is good, perhaps even necessary.

However, looking at the world around us, we can see it is not like this, that evil always poisons, it does not elevate man, it degrades and humiliates him, it does not make him bigger, more pure or rich; it damages him and makes him smaller. Rather, we must learn this on the day of the Immaculate Conception: the man who abandons himself completely in the hands of God does not become God’s puppet, an annoying, conscientious person; he does not lose his freedom. Only the man who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great and creative vastness of the freedom of good. The man who turns towards God does not become smaller, but bigger, because thanks to God and together with Him, he becomes large, divine, he becomes truly himself. The man who puts himself in God’s hands does not distance himself from others, withdrawing into his own private salvation; on the contrary, only then his heart will be truly awakened and he can become a sensitive person, hence benevolent and open.

Sin and redemption. Liberty and slavery. A very deep homily indeed.

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