Wednesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time        

            When God created the world, he gave human beings a special power which sets them apart from other created things. It is a beautiful power, and yet it is dangerous. This power makes people more like God. And yet its misuse can drive people away from God. Humans have fought and died for the right to exercise this power, and others have attempted to suppress it in order to gain complete domination over a nation. This awesome power is freedom.

            Although we have instincts like those of the animals, we are not completely controlled by them. We have the ability to choose. A hungry animal confronted with food has no option – it is driven to eat. An equally hungry human being can choose not to eat – for whatever reason.

            It is no wonder that today’s first reading presents the problem of freedom within the poetic context of forbidden fruit. We should not envision a literal tree or even a literal apple. Charles Miller, in his book Opening the Treasures, has this commentary: “The author presents the tree as a symbol of the fact that we human beings are called to choose real good, not apparent good, and that God directs us in what is the real good of life.”

            When God gave us the gift of freedom, a gift which he did not give to irrational animals, in a certain sense he gambled with us. He ran the risk that we would abuse our freedom. And yet he judged that the gamble was worthwhile. The reason is that God wants us to return his love freely or voluntarily – not by compulsion. He sees value only in love which is freely given. God does not want robots who must respond to the proper command.

            The fact that we are here at this Eucharistic celebration shows that we have used our gift of freedom well. We could have chosen to be somewhere else – resting, watching TV, shopping, eating and drinking. But we have freely chosen to show our love for God through the celebration of this Mass. Love freely given is indeed very pleasing to God. And despite the dangers of freedom, we ought to rejoice that God has given us this marvelous gift.

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