Trinity Sunday -The Gift of Freedom


This is Trinity Sunday. Tomorrow I celebrate thirty years as a priest (which means that I’ve had almost forty years in Jesuit life). I’m not sure where the time has gone. The years have been rich and varied.

Whenever I am asked what I am most grateful for as a Jesuit and a priest, I immediately reflect on the freedom that I sometimes have the privilege of seeing in others through my ministry.

Saint Paul refers to that freedom in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.”

I’m once again experiencing this. I’m at Martyrs Shrine, in Midland, Ontario. I’m here for a month, offering Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises to several seminarians. Now and then, if I’m dressed in priestly attire, a visitor to the Shrine stops me and asks me to hear their confession. I’m always happy to be of service.

First of all, I’m hearing the young men as they pray with the Exercises and unite their desire and life to that of Jesus. The Spiritual Exercises have as their purpose the gift of spiritual freedom.

Fr. John English, a Canadian Jesuit who died in 2004, worked a great deal with the Exercises in helping many people come to that gift of freedom. It’s partly freedom to discern how they are being invited to use their unique gifts to bring God’s life and light to the world.

But, that freedom is accompanied by freedom from their past sins and fears and hesitations. English says it this way: “The freedom I am speaking about is a kind of realized, existential freedom – freedom with oneself, and freedom within oneself.

It might be called ultimate freedom, the freedom that accompanies deep awareness of the ultimate meaning of one’s life … It includes a sense of well-being, self-identity, and basic peace.”

It really is a beautiful and moving experience to watch these young men come to greater freedom and peace about their lives, including family and health issues that have the ability to take hold of a person and have a negative impact on life.

Those who I and others have helped over the years with the Sacrament of Reconciliation are proof that we do not have to be trapped by our sins, failures, addictions, past hurts, and so on. But, we are so often trapped and ensnared. We hold on to our hurts and patterns, even those from childhood.

I delight in witnessing a person being unbound, being freed and at peace. Think of a woman who has been haunted for many years by the mistake she made as a young woman in having an abortion as a quick way of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest has the incredible ability to help free her from the hold that her past can exercise.

Or, think of a man who is caught in a pattern of addictive behaviour. He just can’t free himself from the pattern and he makes it worse by constantly beating himself up. Perhaps the priest can help bring some peace into his life.

And, of course, the very Jesuit saints who are honoured at this Shrine – the North American Martyrs – are illustrations of tremendous courage and freedom, both in their ministry a few hundred years ago and their eventual martyrdom.

Sts Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and their companions were men of freedom and courage. If you’ve never done so, read their stories. A place to start is with the website for Martyrs’ Shrine ( I’ve been reading about them for the forty years of my Jesuit life and I’m still learning more and still inspired.

Most of us know something about fear and the need for freedom, a level of freedom that leads to genuine peace. Peace in the face of our real lives. Peace that means that we know and acknowledge our sin and our past, yet we are not trapped. As Saint Paul tells us, we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall into fear. What we are offered is freedom. What is standing in the way of freedom?

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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