Bottom line: We are not the result of some random, blind process. No, each of has that divine spark, the breath of God, his divine image, that enables us to have free choice. We are grateful for that incalculable gift.
In our series of gratitude we seen gratitude for things little and things great. We've also talked about gratitude during affliction, specifically the afflictions of depression and conflict. To resolve conflict is more than "I win, you lose". It involves a choice to come to Jesus, come to his mercy: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Coming to Jesus requires a choice. That's our theme today: gratitude for free choice.
We take freedom of choice for granted. Many people, however, think that freedom of choice is impossible. They believe we are the result of a random, material process - that you and I have no more free choice than a seagull or a snail. This idea predates Charles Darwin. Even back in St. Paul's day, certain people thought our lives are predetermined, that we have no true free choice.
St. Paul didn't see it that way. He writes, "I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received..." Paul may have been in prison but he was one of the freest men in the Roman Empire. He urged Christians to make a choice - to live in manner worthy of the call we have received "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love..." Even though we are naturally inclined to pride and arrogance, we can choose humility and gentleness.
Paul adds, "striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace..." To strive means to make a choice - and keep at it.
You and I have free choice. Freedom of choice, unfortunately, has been debased. For some people it means choosing to take drugs or watch pornography. Those choices don't bring freedom. They bring slavery.
I have to say something that pains me: people telling our young people that free choice means they can have someone kill their own baby. I've talked with my great nieces and other young women I love. I say to them, "We don't want you to become pregnant, but if you do, please, do not kill your baby. We will help you." Sadly, when a young woman finds herself pregnant, she feels she has no choice. We want them to have genuine choice. That's why we're having the drive to support Two Hearts Pregnancy Aid. For a young woman in a troubled pregnancy and for the dad, we want real choice.
Choice is a precious gift. God gave it to us when he created us in his image. We are grateful for that gift.
I'd like to mention one way to exercise that gift - how I learned the secret of a smile. The choice to smile is pretty small in comparison with other choices, but it can make a huge difference. When I was in junior high, I read an article that said before you enter a room, think of something you are grateful for. Maybe some person. That will bring a smile to your face. It worked. Sometimes it's hard and I admit I often don't do it. But when I consciously think about something - or someone - I'm grateful for, it brings a smile. And to smile naturally makes a person feel better. Even if you are alone, a smile will pick you up.
If you get only one thing from this series on gratitude, learn or relearn the secret of a smile. It's the best gift you can give to people close to you. In fact, next Sunday we will talk about the duty of happiness - that our own happiness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to people near us.
You might react, how can happiness be a duty? We'll talk about that next week. St. Paul tells us to "put on the new self". As we will see, the "new self" is the true self. That's for next Sunday.
What we want to take home today is that we are not the result of some random, blind process. No, each of has that divine spark, the breath of God, his divine image, that enables us to have free choice. We are grateful for that incalculable gift. Amen.
Spanish Version (Word document)
From Archives (17th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Kurt Nagel
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru