“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #1730
We see the whole mystery of human freedom on full display in the beginning of Genesis. God confers upon Adam and Eve a sovereignty over all creation; Adam names all of the animals. There is a profound sense of respect and dignity in the Lord’s stance toward his human son and daughter. Yet, very quickly, these persons, created in the image and likeness of God, abuse their sacred freedom by rejecting the Lord and his commands through the disobedience of sin.
Our freedom is a divine gift; it helps constitute our humanity; it is terrifying and beautiful. The human will created the Sistine Chapel; it also built Auschwitz.
God can never force us to love, believe, hope or do good. He invites, teaches, inspires, urges us to embrace moral greatness, but in the end it is our choice. It must be this way. If we were simply puppets on God’s string, doing his bidding against our own will, we would not be free nor human nor made in God’s image.
God cherishes our freedom so profoundly he refuses to violate it, even when we individually and collectively make sinful and even evil choices. This struggle between sin and grace, good and evil, life and death in every human being is the drama of salvation.
Seen through this lens of freedom, Jesus is the One who, by submitting himself to the will of the Father, liberates us from the shackles of sin and death and sets us free to be children of God.
Our contemporary culture mistakes freedom for license. Gratify yourself. Act out your desires. You decide what is right or wrong for you. No one can tell you how to live your life.
We see the perilous consequences of this gravely mistaken notion of freedom throughout our society, from abortion to euthanasia, from corporate greed to urban poverty, from promiscuous sex to same-sex marriage.
The moral teachings of the church are rejected as a superstitious hold-over from a credulous age and the natural law written into the human heart is simply ignored.
Regardless of our moral confusion, God’s order, purpose and will remain as the fixed goal and authentic inspiration for all human activity. We can live as if God’s moral law does not exist, but we will suffer the consequences of such a rejection.
Just as I can deny the law of gravity, but if I jump off a roof, I will still hit the ground. Conversely, when I embrace the teachings of Christ, when I live by the moral teachings of the church, when I act out the Gospel, I flourish as a human being, becoming the best person I can be and I contribute to the good of my neighbor.
That is why, more than ever, the church needs us to be witnesses, not only to speak the moral truth of God but to act it out, so that others can experience the joy, peace, love, generosity and goodness that flow from a life-long relationship with Christ and his church.
Imagine the moral influence of a corporate executive who pays a fair wage to the workers, cares about their welfare, refrains from dishonest business practices and prays throughout the day?
What is the spiritual effect of a pure and chaste teenager who refrains from drugs and alcohol and volunteers for community projects?
How do we contribute to a better moral environment at work when we do our job with diligence, refuse to listen to gossip, lift others up with our joy, refrain from swearing?
In giving us freedom, God has endowed us with a precious participation in his own nature. In giving us the moral law, which reaches its fulfillment in Christ, God has shown us the way to use that freedom for good, for justice and peace, for authentic human flourishing.
Every day, each of us has a fundamental choice to make. Will I live today as my own little drama with me at the center, or will I live as a free and active child of God, furthering the great and holy drama of human salvation?
All of the little decisions we make every moment, from how we spend our money to the organizations we support, from the relationships we nurture to the sacrifices we make for others, are an exercise of our freedom and an invitation to participate in the salvation of the world. In a sense, we can be whoever we choose to become.
The paradox of the Gospel lies in the surprising truth that we will only be great when we freely embrace the path of surrender, service and sacrifice. As St. Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”