Let us keep before us over these next few days this poignant insight from the Catechism: "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin.(CCC 1733)" Let us choose to change, choose to grow in the likeness of the One who carried His Cross to free us from the power of sin and the final enemy of death
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its Section entitled "Life in Christ" offers a powerful synthesis of the Sacred Scripture and Tradition on the mystery, meaning and purpose of human freedom. As we enter into the final days of Holy Week I offer these insights on grace and freedom for our reflection.
It instructs us that "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."(CCC 1730)
The citation offered within the text is taken from the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes", # 17) and the Old Testament Book of Sirach 15:14 which reads, "When God, in the beginning, created man, he made him subject to his own free choice." What follows is a line from the 2d century Church Bishop, Ireneaeus of Lyons: "Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts."
The implications of this gift, our human freedom, are broken open for us in the Catechism in a way that makes it ideal for our reflection as we enter into the three Holy days, the Sacred Triduum. These instructions on the relationship between grace and freedom are grouped together under the topic of "Freedom and Responsibility":
"Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude."
"As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin". (Romans 6:17) (CCC #1731, 1732, and 1733)
We are invited to consider our choices in life. Our freedom has been fractured by sin. We do not always choose the path to our true liberation because of the effects of what St. Paul called the "law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). We experience the plight summarized succinctly by the Apostle in his letter to the Romans, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." (Romans 7:15)
The Catechism, summarizing the teaching of Scripture and Holy Tradition, explains what I am calling this "fracture of our freedom" with these words, "Freedom and sin. Man's freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God's plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.(CCC # 1739)"
One aspect of sin is that it is always an abuse of our use of human freedom. It is a wrong choice. However, in the words of the Apostle Paul, it was "for freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1). We need an education in how to exercise our freedom properly if our capacity to exercise it properly is to be strengthened. We also need treatment for the fracture to our freedom which was occasioned by the original sin of our first parents - as well as the further weakening caused by the cumulative effect of our own errant exercises of this power of choice. That treatment is the splint of the Cross of Christ. It alone can heal the fracture which sin has brought to our freedom.
In another Section on freedom, the Catechism gives us an insight which has the potential of rewriting the continuing story of our lives: "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself."(CCC #1861) Remember, because we are created in the Image of God we have the power, the capacity, to make choices. But what we choose not only changes the world around us, it changes us. An early 4th century Church Father, Gregory of Nyssa opined, in a beautiful insight offered in the Catechism:
"We are in a sense our own parents, and we give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good. Such a choice becomes possible for us when we have received God into ourselves and have become children of God, children of the most high. On the other hand, if what the Apostle calls the form of Christ has not been produced in us, we abort ourselves. The man (woman) of God must reach maturity."
We are invited by the Holy Spirit to grow in this maturity through our cooperation with God's grace. Such a re-formation and transformation in Christ is what these Forty Days of Lent were meant to be about. These last few days beckon us to press into the mystery more fully and find the path to mature freedom.
If we embrace the grace offered to us in the sacraments, enter into intentional times of fruitful prayer, spiritual reading, reflection, almsgiving, fasting and the real amendment of our lives - the remedial effects of the Splint of the Cross will be more fully experienced over these days. We will begin to experience the growth of our capacity to exercise true freedom; the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
Our Catechism instructs us in a section entitled Liberation and Salvation, "By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. "For freedom Christ has set us free." In him we have communion with the "truth that makes us free." The Holy Spirit has been given to us and, as the Apostle teaches, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (CCC 1741)"
Beginning today we can glory in the "liberty of the children of God." Let us not just let this opportunity pass by. As men and women who at our deepest core long for true freedom, let us invite the Lord Jesus Christ to set us free. Let us choose voluntarily to apply the splint of the Cross to those areas in ourselves where we know our freedom has been fractured. If we have not yet taken full advantage of the Sacrament of penance, do so now!
It is only by choosing the good, in conforming our choices to the truth as revealed in the Natural Law and fully revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ, that we can grow in authentic freedom and become the men and women whom we were created, and re-created in Christ, to become.
Let us keep before us over these next few days this poignant insight from the Catechism: "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin.(CCC 1733)"
Let us choose to change, choose to grow in the likeness of the One who carried His Cross to free us from the power of sin and the final enemy of death. Coming to understand more fully the relationship between our freedom and the grace of God is a key to our progress in holiness.
The rich teaching offered to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the Church in our Catechism points us on the way: "Freedom and grace. The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart."
"On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. "
"By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world: 'Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful, so that, made ready both in mind and body, we may freely accomplish your will.(Prayer of the Roman Missal)(CCC # 1742)"
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