Readings (Year B)
Reflection: A freedom that sets others free
Freedom from slavery is often a prominent topic on my mind. Truly it can be no wonder, as I am an African American descended from enslaved ancestors here in the United States.
Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to be enslaved, with your entire livelihood dependent on the whim of another person, not free to come and go as you choose. Other times, I marvel at what it must have felt like to become free. As Moses says in today’s first reading: “Did anything so great ever happen before” (Deut. 4:32)?
The taste of freedom is sweet, and surely it is one we have all experienced in one way or another. The Israelites experienced it when they were freed from the Egyptians. In a few weeks, my people will celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day the slaves were freed here in America. African Americans across the country will gather for food, music, dancing, culture-sharing, reflection, education, and encouragement. These are the symptoms of freedom.
As Catholics, we celebrate another kind of freedom—a freedom of the heart, given by God through Jesus. Today’s psalm speaks to this spiritual emancipation in which we are delivered from death and preserved despite spiritual famine all around us. This is truly “the kindness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5).
Our celebration of Pentecost only a few Sundays ago was a reminder that, although Jesus returned to the throne, he did not leave us lonely. He gave us God’s Spirit to guide us and strengthen us and to drive away the spirit of the world—that of fear and slavery to spiritual death and spiritual orphancy.
Not so long ago, my ancestors could be ripped away from their parents at a moment’s notice and sold to the highest bidder, a kind of dehumanization that is nearly unspeakable. In the same way that this modeled death, we are reminded today by Paul’s letter to the Romans that the salvation we receive from God is the meaning of life, in which we receive a relationship with the eternal Father that this same letter tells us is unbreakable.
When we reflect on this mystery of our faith—the salvation of our souls—we come to terms with not just the actions of God but God’s nature as well. Who is this father who sends his son to rescue us from slavery and whose Spirit holds us safe in God’s arms until the heavenly mission is complete? Matthew’s gospel makes it clear: to confess our freedom as Christians is to confess the most holy trinity: three in one, one in three.
The gospel also tells us that to confess this truth is to proclaim it and to explain it. Our mission as Catholics is summed up as this: a freedom that sets others free. When my ancestors heard the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, I’m sure one of their first reactions was to find a brother or sister or child or neighbor to tell. Freedom has legs! Freedom is meant to go viral.
Today, we celebrate a Juneteenth of the heart, a mystical unshackling that we experience not only on solemnities or on Sundays or even in a church, but which energizes everything we do and, like Jesus commanded, makes us “Go.”