On March 14, 2013, St. Joseph the Worker Parish hosted Freedom, a Reconciliation event for youth and young adults in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The event was incredible, thanks in large part to the many young volunteers. The following the talk is from the end of the night, after hundreds of youth and young adults had the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In one of his short stories (Capital of the World), Ernest Hemingway describes an incredible parable. In Madrid there was a young man named Paco. In Spanish “Paco” is short for “Francisco” and is a very common name. For various reasons, Paco had become estranged from his father, run away from his home and was living on the streets. His life was on a downward spiral towards destruction. This was the last thing that Pacho’s father wanted. He desperately wanted to find his son but knew that he could never do this just by wandering the streets of Madrid, and so he made one last desperate attempt to locate his son. He paid good money to publish a large advertisement in Madrid’s largest newspaper “El Liberal”. The ad, which took up nearly a page, read as follows:
"Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa."
That Tuesday at noon the father made his way to the Hotel Montana. When he reached the hotel he discovered something incredible. A huge crowd had gathered, it filled the lobby and spilled into the street. Over 800 young men named Paco were waiting for their fathers and the forgiveness and reconciliation they never thought was possible.
We have come here this evening like so many Pacos. This Church has been our Hotel Montana. We have come and received the reconciliation and forgiveness that we never thought was possible. We have been reconciled with our Father. We have also been reconciled with each other. Being in such a large group has been incredibly encouraging because realized that we are not alone in our desire to be forgiven. Together we have received Freedom from Jesus. We have been set free.
Where do we go from here? When we leave here this evening, how do we continue to live this experience of freedom? St. Paul gives us some important advice:
It was for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1)
We have received freedom tonight so that we can go and live in freedom. A critical question is: what is freedom?
For many people freedom means the ability to choose anything. I am only free if I can go in any direction, if I can choose to do anything that I want. When we think this way about freedom, any laws or rules - whether they come from parents, government or the Church - seem oppressive and negative because the constrain our freedom. True freedom, some people say, is just the freedom to choose whatever you desire.
This, however, is not the true freedom. This is not the freedom for which Christ has set us free. When we look at our lives we find that it is not true being able to choose to do anything we please makes us free. On the contrary, our experience teaches us an important lesson. When we choose bad things and actions, it does not make us free but rather slaves. On the other hand, it is only when we choose good things and good actions that we become truly free. To help illustrate this, I want to compare as an example two different characters from the Lord of the Rings series: Gollum and Aragorn.
When we look at the life of Gollum we see clearly that making bad choices does not make us free. When Gollum choose to take the ring, this bad decision turned him into a slave or the ring. He became addicted and was unable to live without it. The same thing happens to us when we choose to sin or simply become over attached to something which is not bad in itself. The sin or that thing that we are attached to become our precious. Social media is an example of this. In itself it is neither good nor bad. You probably find that it can become addictive. You need to constantly check if people liked or favorited your posts or tweets. You hesitate to go places where you do not have WiFi access. It can make you less free. We can become addicted to all kinds of things. For example, we can become addicted to un-forgiveness. If we refuse to forgive somebody, we are a slave to our grudge, we are not free from the hurt that person has caused us. Through our choices we can get enslaved to many things: gossip, pornography and even laziness. In the life of Gollum and in our own life we discover that choosing to sin or choosing to get attached to certain things does not make us free but rather enslaves us.
When we see the life of Aragorn, we see just the opposite. Unlike Gollum, Aragorn does not make choices based on what is easiest or most attractive at the moment. Aragorn chooses the path of virtue. He chooses to be humble, to serve other and defend the weak. This is a difficult path, but in the end it leads Aragorn to be truly happy and free. Aragorn becomes king, not just of Middle Earth, but of his own being. He is not enslaved to any behaviour or sin. In our own life, following the path of Jesus is not easy. Following the ten commandments and the sermon on the mount is no easy task. Forgiving our enemies is extremely difficult. Growing in virtues like humility, charity and justice takes hard work. When we live this way, however, we become truly free. The saints are the freest people in the world. In the life of Aragorn and in our own life we find that when we choose the good, regardless of the cost, we find true and lasting freedom.
So, where do we go from here? Let us follow the path of Aragorn and not Gollum. Perhaps there are areas in your life, whether it be relationship or behaviors, in which you feel enslaved. Never loose hope! Take courage from the experience that we have had here together this evening! We are in this together so let us encourage one another! If we continue to strive to make good choices with the help of Jesus, we will experience more and more the true and lasting joy and freedom of being beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. Pacho, all is forgiven! Let us rejoice in this amazing gift and calling: it was for freedom that Christ has set us free.