‘Give us true freedom.’ That is what we ask God in today’s opening prayer. What is true freedom? We can think of it as freedom from and freedom for.
Freedom from seeks freedom from the chains that bind us. Selfishness, anger, resentment, impulsiveness, aggression. These and other weaknesses are real factors in life. They bind us and limit us. We call it sin. Jesus came to encourage us to break free from sin. The fact that it is a lifetime journey does not make it any less real. He gives us hope and courage, and helps us to see that we do not have to stay as we are. He gives us grace to help us in our weakness. His whole life, death and resurrection, are a message teaching us that if we love God and follow him in Christ, then sin cannot cut us off from God and each day is a new beginning. Today’s gospel (Matt. 18.15-20) may seem negative, but if you look at it again you will see that it is about freedom from. In particular, there is a passage that the Church has always taken as referring to the sacrament of confession: ‘Whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven’ (18.19b). This sacrament is not used as much today as it was in the past. This is a great pity. Perhaps we need to see it as helping us find freedom from so that we may grow into the person that God calls us to be.
Freedom from is never enough on its own. There has to be freedom for as well. There is so much that hurts and imprisons people in our world. Freedom for longs to build a world which fulfils words that we pray every day: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.’ We want to work with our fellow Christians, and indeed, with all people of goodwill, so that God’s loving will for the earth may be fulfilled. This calls for creativity, courage, insight: in our daily workplace and in our families, in our duties as citizens and members of the community.
Freedom for is realistic. We know that there are human limitations, that our achievements will always be partial. But because we have been set free we have a vision of human flourishing, which is made possible by God’s work in human hearts. In this great freedom for we do not act out of any ideology, or out of daydreaming, but quite simply out of what we know to be true, namely that God loves us. As we hear today in the letter from the Romans, where St Paul quotes Our Lord: ‘All the commandments are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself’ (Rom. 13.9-10; cf Matt. 22.37-40).