Brothers and sisters in Christ, God wants to do amazing things in your life! He tells clearly in the Scriptures today: “some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” God wants each and every one of us to be that rich soil that produces abundant fruit. Likewise, we heard from the prophet Isaiah: “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” These words from Isaiah are first a prophecy about Christ. Remember, one of the titles we use for Christ is the Word of God. St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Christ has indeed accomplished the end for which He was sent by the Father: He suffered, died, and rose for our salvation, to set us free from sin. But this is also a prophecy about us! Because of our Baptism, God is living and active within us. God desires to continue Christ’s mission within us, to continue setting us free from sin and to help us to live in such a way that we not only survive in the world, but bear abundant fruit.
This is also what St. Paul is talking about when he says that “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” There is a yearning and longing present even in the fabric creation for the accomplishment of God’s plan of salvation. St. Paul recounts the history of salvation when he writes, “creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it.” He is talking here about the effects of original sin. When our first human parents sinned, not only did they break the harmony between themselves and God for which God created us, but they also introduced that same disharmony into the rest of the natural world. Ever since, all of creation has been longing for the day when God will reconcile all things to Himself at the end of time. Physical creation, St. Paul is telling us, longs to share in what we already enjoy.
“Creation itself,” St. Paul tells us, “[will] be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” What the rest of the created world will have to wait until the end of time to see, we already experience in ourselves. By virtue of our Baptism, Christ’s grace has been poured into our hearts and we share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. If we live in a state of grace, preserving the divine gifts that have been poured into our souls, then we possess this incredible freedom that God gives us.
The problem with freedom, though, is that we modern men and women have a really warped notion of what it means to be free. A few weeks ago we celebrated the Fourth of July and our nation’s independence – our freedom. Our forefathers fought for our freedom – freedom from the authority of an aloof and foreign monarch, freedom from taxation without representation – you know the drill. But that is all focused on what we are free from. That’s how we think of freedom – freedom from.
Freedom from is the freedom of children. It is freedom from rules and regulations. It is the freedom desired by teenagers who yearn for the days when they will be able to do whatever they want whenever they want it without their parents permission. But this is not the only kind of freedom – it is not the way that things have to be! There is also freedom for. Freedom for considers what is the point of freedom in the first place. How many times when celebrating the Fourth of July have you talked with your family about why we have freedom as a country in the first place? Yes, I am sure we have talked about the many sacrifices by the members of our armed forces and others – but I am thinking of the why of freedom in terms of the end result. For example, in the case of our country, we are free in order to bring about justice, to protect the weak and the stranger, to fulfill the words inscribed on the base of the statue of liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Freedom from – the freedom of teenagers – is what is at play when people give into that all too common misconception: “God just wants me to be happy,” while disregarding God’s commandments present in the Bible and taught by His Church. This misconception is built on two truths: Of course, God does want us to be happy! The second is that we have a free will. God created us free, with a free will. But again, we need to consider the why of freedom – what is freedom for? God created us with a free will so that we could love Him with a free act of that same will. He could have made us such that we automatically did exactly what He wanted, perfectly following His law. But then we wouldn’t be able to love! Love is the choice we make to follow Him (and not, as we so often think, a feeling or an emotion). God surely wanted His only-begotten Son to be happy too, but part of His plan was that He should die on the Cross for our sins so that we might have new life, and thus enjoy the true freedom that comes with living in His grace.
Freedom from – the freedom that considers only how we are limited by authority and seeks to eliminate anything that would keep us from doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it – is the freedom of Adam and Eve, the freedom that chooses sin. Think about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – are they more or less free after they commit that first sin of disobedience? Freedom from would consider that they are more free – they have done something new that they previously did not know. Their eyes are opened and they see things in a new light. The world would consider them to be more free!
But the reality is that after their sin they are much less free. Freedom is not just freedom from, but it is freedom for. After their sin, Adam and Eve are less able to do what is good – they are less able to fulfill the reason for which they are on earth in the first place – to love God and each other. The misuse of their freedom binds them in the chains of sin, in which all of humanity lay until the coming of Christ and His glorious redemption. The same is true for each of us every time that we sin. Sin makes us less free because it makes us less capable of fulfilling our life’s goal – serving God in this life and spending eternity with Him in the next.
Freedom from, I mentioned, is the freedom of teenagers. But freedom for is the freedom of the mature. This is the glorious freedom of the children of God of which St. Paul told us today. This is the freedom that is necessary for us to bear that abundant fruit that Christ promises us. When we exercise the freedom that God has given us in such a way as to open ourselves up to His plans for our lives, we become truly free. True freedom, my brothers and sisters, does not consist in the removal of every kind of control on our lives. God is not a grouchy old man who wants to trick us into being miserable, and neither is His holy Church! Christ and His Church propose a certain moral way of life because it is what He knows will truly set us free.
Christ tells us today that He wants us to bear abundant fruit in our lives. Most of us – I am convinced – far from actually bearing this abundant fruit, have yet even to imagine what it might be like to be the fertile ground that bears such abundant fruit. This is what the whole distinction I am making between freedom from and for has to do with the abundant fruit that Christ promises. When we are focused on freedom from we are kept from imagining what the abundant fruit Christ wants to bring to our lives is because we cannot see the end He intends for the freedom that He has given us – the freedom of the children of God – freedom for. I’ve told you several times that, as your new pastor, I want to invite you on a journey, a journey of renewed faith and zeal for the Gospel. In order to set out on that journey, we need to let our imaginations run wild as we think about what the glorious freedom Christ has given us might actually be for. We should have that same longing and yearning that is present in creation that St. Paul told us about in today’s epistle, a longing and yearning that is ultimately for Christ Himself.
So this is your challenge for the next week: devote some time to quiet prayer with the Lord asking Him where He wants to bring about His abundant fruit in your life. He wants you – yes, precisely you – to be that fertile soil that bears fruit not just thirtyfold, not just sixtyfold, but even a hundredfold. However, I have to warn you: If you truly dedicate yourself to being that rich and fertile soil, God will not leave you the way you are today. He told us: My word will not return to me void. We have an assurance – we do not wish for God to do great things in our life, we hope for it, which means that we expect it. If you devote yourself to being rich and fertile soil, He will act to bring about abundant fruit through you. But here’s another warning: they will likely not be the fruits you expect. They will be even better.
If we want to have true freedom in our lives, what we need is not less restrictions on whatever we want to do. True freedom comes from Christ’s grace inside us, a precious gift guarded by our love for Him and our repentance from our sins. When we have this conception of what it means to be free as God’s children, then it is possible for us to become that rich soil that bears fruit 100-fold and for God to make incredible things to happen in our lives.