The land of the Free and the home of the Brave

Francis Scott Key wrote the Stars Spangled Banner while aboard a British ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the war of 1812.

America is the land of the ____?
And the home of the _____?

The challenge of the Gospel today is to examine our lives and our country.  I think that the core question that the readings lead us to ask is “Are we living in a culture that promotes sin and encourages us to be opposed to God?

Are we living in the land of the Free?
Are we really in the home of the brave?  I ask these questions because the readings today talk to us about our core relationship with God, and the necessity for us to confront sin in our lives – to be brave.

Freedom is the Foundation of Love
The first reading today from Sirach reminds us that the foundation of the moral life is freedom.  God gives us freedom to choose him or to reject him.  Why?  Freedom is the foundation of love and without freedom there can be no love.

Are our actions life-giving or death dealing?
God reminds us that we are free to choose life or death – for ourselves and for others.  We do this with our actions.  Are our actions life-giving or death dealing?

What we ask for – God will give us
Sirach affirms that we are truly free to follow God or to reject God.  We are free to take fire or water, life or death – good or evil.  What we ask for God will grant.

Two ways to understand freedom – lies and truth
There are two ways to look at this freedom – and one is truthful and life-giving and the other is false and death dealing.

The false way is to say that I am free to live any way that I want.  Therefore – God must intend that I live this way.  Sirach affirms that this is false when he says “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”  The true way is to examine our freedom and understand that “The reason that God gives me the choice is so that I can learn to love”

The Home of the Brave – Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount
We use the gift of freedom when our actions align with the Gospels.  In the Gospel today Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount and invites us to make the choice to choose Christ in the way that we live out our lives today.  This is where we need to have the courage to be brave – to examine our lives in four difficult areas to see where our lives need to be reformed so that the will of God can flow through us.

Anger – The power to kill or to correct
Jesus starts the Gospel today with a reflection on Anger.  Anger is a tool that leads us to action.  The question is what sort of action does anger lead us to?  To Death or to Life?  When we are angry with another do we choose to kill the friendship – to end our relationship – to freeze them out or ignore them.  To minimize the impact they have on our lives?  Or do we choose to allow our anger to give us the courage and determination to reflect on the injustice and to address it?  This is why Christ says that when we recognize that another is angry with us – we should stop everything and seek to be recognized.

Sometimes the other is not open to reconciliation.  We have to respect their freedom – but be clear that we are open to healing and addressing the wrong that we have done.

Anger can fuel us to change or isolation.  In which direction is my anger leading me?  How would God ask me to use this anger?


National Week for Marriage
Providentially this Gospel falls in the middle of national marriage week.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has set aside this week (ending on Valentine’s day) to be a week to pray an live out our marriages more fully.

In the midst of this reflection comes this Gospel with two challenges to marriage – Lust and Divorce.

Last year people spent 4.5 Billion hours viewing pornography – working against Christ’s warning in the Gospel today.  That is a staggering number of hours.  For example, if we could harness the effort that people put into the viewing of Pornography we could complete the entire Apollo Moon Landing program in one year and still have 1.5 Billion hours left over!  Staggering!

Pornography is destructive to our hearts because it take s an intimate, personal and private expression of love between spouses and exposes it to the world.  It misuses something that is meant to create life and instead uses it to destroy others souls.  It corrupts our capacity for intimacy by transforming self-giving into self-serving.

Lust traps us with shame and fear.
We fear to confess and we are ashamed of our actions.  These two factors often keep those trapped by Lust in the state of lust.  Live in the home of the brave and have the courage to confront this sin in your life it is present!

What can we do if we recognize this evil in our life?

  • Clear out your browser cache and history
  • Move your internet viewing habits to a public area
  • Avert your eyes and thoughts when you recognize the temptation for lust.
  • Read “Create a clean heart in me” – This is a document created by the USCCB to address the issue of pornography in our culture.

This is a difficult topic for me because I am a divorced man.  Yet we need to listen to the Gospel with open hearts.

Christ teaches that what God joins, no man can divide.  For this reason the Church does not recognize civil divorce.  Yet we live in a culture where this is rampant.

There are some common questions around divorce that are often asked.

Are divorced Catholics excommunicated?

Can divorced Catholics receive Holy Communion?
Yes, divorced Catholics who are in good standing with the church, who have not remarried or who have remarried following the death of their spouse or an annulment may receive the sacraments.  Catholics who are civilly divorced are encouraged to speak to their parish priest or deacon about the matter.

Taking Oaths
The last area of the Gospel that Christ addresses is taking oaths, and the topic of swearing.  When we take an oath it is that we are asking God to witness our actions.  Unfortunately, as a culture we have lost our foundation in God, and so we take oaths lightly and do not understand the seriousness of saying yes or no.  The challenge to us is – Have I been faithful to my vows – In my marriage, in my Holy Orders?

In the Gospel today Jesus says “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Our actions reflect to the world what we believe.  We are here this Sunday to show our love for God.  In this encounter God is inviting us to reflect on the actions of our lives.

  • Are we living in the Land of the Free?  
  • Are we acting like those from the Home of the Brave?  

God has given us the gifts of Freedom and Courage – This is the week to use them!