CANON GERRY CONROY
Freedom is a wonderful but also a terrifying thing. When you look at the history of mankind, you see we have done some truly remarkable things with that freedom, but we have also done some truly terrible things with it.
The first reading captures the tremendous and frightening responsibility that comes with our freedom: we can choose fire or water, life or death; our choices determine the future, and not just our own future. It reminds me of the story of Adam and Eve being able to choose between knowledge and life; you would think the only sensible thing to do would be to choose life, but the allure of knowledge is strong: it seems to offer unending possibilities, even for control of life itself. There lies our great dilemma, we don’t know; we can’t see what the future will bring, the effect of many of our choices remain unclear to us. ‘Vast is the wisdom of the Lord; he is almighty and all-seeing’, the first reading said. We on the other hand can only guess at the outcome of our choices; our wisdom is short-sighted.
St Paul offers us a wisdom, but it is not what we might expect, it is not conventional wisdom and it is not gained in the traditional manner; in fact it is a wisdom that is a gift, a wisdom that comes with the Holy Spirit. So that is a wisdom that is often rejected because it hardly seems like knowledge at all; it seems at odds with the wisdom of the world, or what we would normally think of as wisdom. It presents us with the same old choice: do we choose the water or the fire, do we choose knowledge or life? Do we choose what seems like freedom or do we choose what’s seems like obedience to someone else’s will and to their wisdom?
I must admit listening to the words of Christ in today’s Gospel, there is much in it that goes against my immediate inclinations, perhaps because it goes against what seems to offer me most comfort and ease at any particular time. Yet there is in it also the attraction of something that offers meaning and depth to an ultimately limited life. It seems again the familiar choice of fire or water, of life or death and even though I tell myself it is life I want, I am drawn to the other thing because it seems to offer me a more immediate happiness. The other way seems harder and to involve more of an effort; the promise of something good is not as endearing as actually having something good, even if it is not as good. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
That seems to be the perennial choice our freedom must deal with: what to choose in life, or perhaps it is more about how do we decide what to choose. It seems to come down to choosing based on trust, or choosing based on distrust. Do we choose to listen to Christ because we trust him, or do we choose what seems to offer us a more immediate comfort because we do not really trust life and how it will turn out. We don’t believe anyone is really in control. What it comes down to for us is a choice to trust or to live out of fear. When we come face to face with death, I suppose that is just the final opportunity we get to choose. Hopefully then at least we will make the right choice. Just now all our choices are really just for practice.