Be Free!: 14th S. 2020

4thToday’s reflection is for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I hope some of you remember the movie Gladiator, in 2000, starring Russel Crowe. The opening scene shows Roman general, Maximus, defeating Rome’s enemies, finally bringing peace to Rome, and to the heart of it’s great emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is exhausted, having been at war for over two decades. He wants only peace and needed rest from violence and bloodshed.

The truthfulness of that scene made an incredible impact on me when I saw it not long after getting out of the Marines. War is exhausting, violence is exhausting, and peace is a beautiful and delicate flower. As we celebrate Independence Day this year we honor those brave men and women who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to stand guard so that our hard-won freedoms remain secure.

July 4th is not about barbeques and fireworks, but about celebrating the long-awaited peace of independence and liberty from tyranny, oppression, and violence. St. Augustine said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” We gather today as a family, to be recreated, rejuvenated, and to put things in proper order—God, Family, country, and friends. The Hebrew word for this peace, tranquility, and order is shalom.

The 1st reading from the Prophet Zechariah gives the people of Judah new hope as they return from Exile in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. They look forward to a king. A king that will bring sedekah and shalom—justice and peace. Zechariah says that this great king would banish the instruments of war, the chariot, the horse, and the warrior’s bow, and proclaim shalom to the nations.

The Jews believed that a good king would ensure justice (sedekah) to the most vulnerable in society, namely, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant, and bring peace (shalom) within the nation and between one nation and the other. And shalom/peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict, but rather the fullness of life—within the nation and among nations.

Peace was the only thing that Marcus Aurelius wanted and it’s what we should want too, in our heart, in our family, in our streets, nation, and world. It’s also our only prayer for those who have died, that they Rest In Peace (R.I.P.), and it’s what Jesus promises in the Gospel today. Sadly, too few people find in this life.

Jesus tells a weary, conflicted, exhausted people, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Exhausted war-torn people need peace, and justice, and Jesus…and the resultant joy.

As we celebrate our Independence Day, let us be mindful that although we are free from the tyranny of British Colonization, we are yet still far from free as a people and as a country, and I believe it’s why we still lack peace in our hearts and in our streets.

I hope you love this country as much as I do, and are honest enough to admit that though free in principal, we have much room for growth in practice. While we still live in sin, we are not free. While children starve we are not free. While domestic violence exists, we are not free. While racism, sexism, and elitism exist we are not free. While addictions and poverty and homelessness, intolerance, violence, and ignorance exist we are not free.

I believe with all my heart that we can be free and we will be free, but we’re not quite there yet. We need Jesus. We need to know our dignity and the dignity of others. We need to recommit ourselves daily to prayer and lives of holiness, that serve others, stand in solidarity with others, and speak up for others. This country is amazing, but renewal and recommitment is absolutely essential.

True independence is not about freedom from, but rather freedom for. We do not measure independence based upon what we do not have to do, but rather what we can do. I can be generous during times of scarcity. I can be courageous in the face of danger. I can be loving toward those who do not deserve my love. Why? Because I can…because I’m free. Free to love, free to give, free to serve, free to worship, free to live for God, family, and country.

St. Paul tells the Romans today, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” So, join me on this Independence Day to cook some BBQ and to let off some fireworks, to spend time and be recreated with family and friends, and to celebrate our Nation’s independence.

But even more than that, join me in putting an end to conflict, to struggle, injustice, intolerance, and violence. And above all, to putting an end to slavery to sin which leads to death. Join me in clinging to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, saying yes to God, yes to life, and yes to love. Because only then will we truly be free, find joy, and know shalom. Happy 4th of July.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Stephen Valgos

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