In today’s first reading from the book of Sirach (15:15-20), we are told that we shouldn’t view God’s commandments as a form of punishment, but rather as directives that save us. The writer states that we all have the free will to make either good or evil choices, to choose between either life or death; good or evil. In the early Church, Catechumens were taught that, “there are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways”. This personal freedom is a gift from God and He expects us to exercise it properly. Sirach reminds us that, “no one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”

When we think about what it means to be “free,” most people would relate this concept to the working principles of our democracy. The notion of “freedom” is understood as being able to choose anything we want, to be able do whatever we want unhindered, without force or compulsion from anyone. Freedom then, only exists if it is detached from rules, responsibility, and outcomes. This idea of freedom, however, endangers our souls because it over-emphasizes our degree of freedom at the expense of ignoring whether our free acts are good or bad. Unfortunately, this idea of freedom is embraced throughout most of today’s culture. The Church, however, approaches this concept from a different perspective and this weekend’s readings help us to understand why. The difference lies in the “end” of our choices. You see, although we always have the freedom to choose between good and bad, God expects us to use our freedom to always choose the good. Freedom, therefore, is only achieved when we choose to do good things.

Today’s passage from Sirach informs us that, “whichever he chooses shall be given him” and in Matthew’s reading, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is conditional to following his commandments. If we choose the bad, then we have condemned ourselves to death and we will never be free from the chains of our own self-damnation. If, however, we choose the good, we walk the path leading to the reward of eternal life in heaven. True freedom, then, is not attained through unlimited choices, indifferent to whether they are good or bad, but rather in the goodness that our choices possess. In this way, God’s commandments serve not as burdensome rules that enslave us and impede our freedom, but as beacons that guide us to Christ.

God has given us the beautiful gift of freedom so we can choose whether we journey towards life or death and God has placed his commandments to illuminate the path that we should follow. Using our freedom to always choose the good, restores us to the likeness of God. Knowing that the path that we choose will be given to us, may our freedom always choose the way of life.

Deacon Bob