In 1994, while I was still eight years old, the film The Shawshank Redemption debuted in theaters. It did rather poorly at the box office, but when it debuted on home video and cable television it slowly became recognized and is now widely acknowledged as one of the great films of our time. At one point, the main character, Andy Dufresne, actually innocent despite his conviction, finally receives from the state a donation of books and records for the prison library which he has been working on for many years. Left alone for few moments, he takes a copy of Mozart' s Marriage of Figaro and plays it for the entire prison to hear. Almost the entire prison stops what they are doing. We hear Morgan Freeman's character narrate as this stop occurs:
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it....for the briefest moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free...
Two weeks later, after a stint in a solitary confinement cell, Andy returns, saying that despite the circumstances he had just faced, there was that place inside that no one can take from him, a place of interior freedom that gives him hope.
It's this freedom to which the Lord is trying to call each one of us. To a place of authenticity. Yet, so often, for so many reasons, we don't allow ourselves to go to that place. In the Gospel today and over the last week, the Lord’s admonishment of the Pharisees has been front and center. He has spoken of the need of integration: that the Pharisees must integrate interior purity with what’s one the outside and he criticizes them for focusing exclusively on exterior acts to the point that they themselves have become obstacles to drawing people closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We must guard against doing the same. But we can’t do it alone. We need Christ at the center of all that we do, that we might never stop speaking the truth, that we might hold it together with the love of God that is charity. To quote Pope Benedict from Caritas in Veritate:
[Charity] gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, “God is love” (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.
Charity, the love of God, must be at the heart of all that we do. Our ministry, our priesthood is not for ourselves. We need to stay in that relationship with God always, never severing that love of God through sin. We need to center ourselves on Christ as priests, and this can't be accomplished unless we are constantly confronting those attitudes, those rooms of the world in which we seek refuage, that impede us from charity.
Your future parishioners need to be led to their Savior alone, and to the degree the authentic love of God is mediated and received through your deepening relationship with Christ, the more your parishioners will come to understand the authentic God who is both love and truth and not just some composite of the media’s latest agenda.
Thus, we are left with a choice in our lives: are we willing to embrace the light that drives away the darkness, that enlightens those areas of our lives that we leave sealed off like a solitary confinement cell? Are we willing to allow Christ, the divine physician, the ability to heal us so that we can more fully mediate his grace and draw people to the Lord who provides for his people in the gift of the sacraments?
Only then will we possess the grace to lead others to a place of true freedom, the inner room where we find the Lord giving us strength and peace in a chaotic world. If we allow ourselves to be healed of our infirmities, we will find a place of interior freedom, to be able to do the difficult things, and like Andy, bring hope to those who are in so desperately need of it.
God bless you