Freedom to Love versus the Slavery of Sin

God created man to be free, putting us into the hands of our own counsel (cf. Sirach 15:14), so that we might freely seek our perfection by loving our creator. As the Second Vatican Council explains:
“Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness… God willed that man ‘of his own accord’ seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint” (Gaudium et Spes 17).
We are “called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13) because only those who are free can love, and only love will make us happy. But we cannot use “freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13), to do or say anything we feel like (see CCC 1747). Freedom is the ability to love, to seek the good of our beloved and to unite ourselves to him. The more we truly love the freer we become. Disobedience, infidelity, and all evil leads to “the slavery of sin” (see CCC 1733). Actions can only be good or evil if they are free. We wouldn’t think of punishing an asteroid for slamming into the earth and killing someone. Nor would we punish a man-eating shark, although we may kill it to prevent future attacks. We punish murderers and hold them responsible because they are free human beings.
“The morality of acts is defined by the relationship of man’s freedom with the authentic good. This good is established, as the eternal law, by Divine Wisdom which orders every being towards its end…. Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness…. Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life” (St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor 72).
An impulse or reflex reaction is not evil unless the impulse or reflex was freely chosen, as when we deliberately give in to a habit that leads to sin. For example, if we know that drinking leads us to surf the Internet and fall into to compulsive pornography then choosing to drink would be the sin. Likewise, if we know that watching football will lead to angry outbursts and violent reactions, then to turn on the football game would be the sin. Having a sinful dream in the middle of our nighttime sleep is not freely willed and therefore is not a sin. Freedom, Grace, and Law We are responsible for our acts to the extent that those actions are voluntary (see CCC 1734). Ignorance (of a child, for example), duress and manipulation, fear and other psychological or social factors can reduce or even eliminate our ability to make free decisions (see CCC 1746). Such factors coerce us into doing what we do not want to do (see Romans 7), thus reduce our responsibility. So to cultivate virtues—habitual acts of doing good—and to overcome ignorance, manipulation, and fear increases our freedom to love and our responsibility to pursue the good of the one we love. God’s grace also increases our freedom because it gives us an ability to love. Grace is God’s love for us—“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). The grace of knowing that we are loved enables us to love the Father and the Son in return. This is “the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Through the grace of the Holy Spirit working in our life through faith in Jesus Christ helps us to grow in our inner freedom, giving us the strength and confidence to endure periods of trial (see CCC 1742). God’s law is a gift—a grace—that guides the use of our freedom by directing our actions in ways that lead to union with God and the pursuit of the good of our beloved. That is why Pope St. John Paul II tells us: “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom: rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor). Embracing a life of grace, law, and freedom will truly free us to love as God so created us.  

Fr. John R. Waiss


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