The Choices We Make Determine the People We Become
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Too many people in this neo-pagan age have, knowingly or unknowingly, been lured into a new form of idolatry. "Choice" is the new golden calf around which many now worship. As a culture, we have stripped the word of its moral content and try to hide evil under its verbal guise. We have the arrogance to call some choices "rights", when they are always wrong. "Freedom" can be exercised wrongly. This is obvious in the horror of legalized abortion on demand. We all know that procured abortion is the taking of innocent human life. Even its most vicious advocates rarely debate that issue any longer. They follow instead the way of the modern sophists, seeking to hide the horror of the act under the shadow of the new golden calf - the idol of unencumbered "choice".
The truth is that some choices are always and everywhere wrong, such as the taking of innocent human life. It should never be chosen, even if there are no apparent legal impediment to killing certain subsets of persons, such as is currently the case with children in the womb. This "culture of death" has expanded the so called "right to choose" to the killing of "unwanted" disabled people like Terri Schiavo and, if left unopposed, will soon set include "unwanted" elderly and infirmed. Authentic human freedom must always be exercised with reference to the truth concerning the inviolable dignity of every human life, at every age and every stage. Otherwise, it becomes a counterfeit.
In the shadow of this new golden calf, we who bear the name Christian have the obligation to learn how to engage the debate of our age over the very nature of human freedom. We need to engage the age with a discussion concerning what it is that is being chosen and help our fellow human beings to understand who we become when we make wrong choices. We need to speak about the nature and the obligations of authentic human freedom and contrast it with the lies of the false equation of liberty with license endemic to the materialism and nihilism of the age.
A champion of authentic human freedom, Pope John Paul II, wrote frequently about the implications of the exercise of human freedom. In one of his letters of instruction on the Christian family he wrote these insightful words: "History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better - but rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves - the love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)"
This "conflict between two loves", this "event of freedom", is played out in each of our lives on a daily basis. The recurring questions of Eden echo in our personal histories. How will we exercise our "freedom"? At which tree will we make "our" choices? Will it be the tree of disobedience, where the first Adam chose against God's invitation to a communion of love, or the tree on Golgotha's hill where the second Adam, the Son of God, brought heaven to earth when He stretched out His arms to embrace all men and women, bearing the consequences of all their wrong choices?
The choice made by Jesus Christ of freely given self- emptying love, was addressed by St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians in these words: "Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant'' (Philippians 2:6).The word rendered "Servant" in our English translation is the same word that is used for Deacon in the original Greek. The word translated "emptied" is the Greek word "kenosis"; which literally means to be poured out like water in a basin. Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His Divine prerogative; He poured Himself out completely, for you, me and for all men and women. He became a servant for all of us.
Through His Cross and Resurrection, Jesus has reopened the path to authentic human freedom by overcoming sin and death. As He chose the way of Love, through grace, that same choice can be made by each one of us. This is the essence of the Christian claim. When we make that choice, light is shone upon the very meaning and purpose of our human existence. We were made for God, and in Him, for one another and authentic love. When we choose to love, in the way that Jesus did, we find the path to authentic human freedom and we discover the "mystery of man."
In their extraordinary "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" ("Gaudium et Spes"), the Fathers of the Second Vatican wrote of this "mystery of man". They brilliantly addressed the human vocation, as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in these inspired and insightful words:
"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.
He who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands; He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.
As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God "loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.
The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received "the first-fruits of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is "the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of "the redemption of the body" (Rom. 8:23): "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom. 8:11).
... Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit: Abba, Father!"
"Gaudium et Spes" (which in Latin literally means "Joy and Hope") contains so much that we need to understand if we are going to address the great missionary challenges posed by our age. In addition to speaking to the role of the Church as a missionary community sent into the "modern" world, it helps us to develop an "anthropology"- an understanding of the nature of the human person; who we are, who we can become and how we can achieve the fullness of our human vocation. The Christian claim is that Jesus Christ reveals the way of the person, the "mystery of man." We need to share this anthropology with an age that is, in the words of the annoying old country song, "looking for love in all the wrong places."
In our discussions concerning the true nature of and obligations attendant to human freedom with those who have been deluded by the siren song of license as liberty, it is not enough to speak of "choice", we must reclaim the word. We also need to address what is being chosen. We need to be able to explain to the modern mind that in the very making of the choice, the person makes themselves; they become the person they have chosen in and through their acts; they CHOOSE their future through the exercise of their freedom. In the words of the Catholic Catechism: "Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts" (CCC, n. 1749).
This insight into the effects of choice is what philosophers and theologians call the reflexive nature of human choice. It has long been the subject of deep reflection in the Christian tradition. An early Father of the undivided Christian Church, Gregory of Nyssa, once opined: "Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew...but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions."
When we choose what is contrary to Gods purpose, what is opposed to the way of selfless, we sin. Sin is thus an abuse of the freedom to choose given to us by God (cf. CCC, n. 1730-1738).The New Testament is filled with the implications of this insight. We "become" adulterers when we look at a woman with lust (Mt. 5:28); what comes out of our "heart" (The "heart" is the biblical center where freedom is exercised, human choices are made and character formed) is what makes us "unclean" (Mk 7:14-23). There is a self-determining character to our exercise of choice. In addition to changing the world around us and hurting others, our wrong choices corrupt us.
We who are Christians also need to deepen our understanding of the implications of our own choices, by growing in our relationship with the Lord. The Christian life and vocation is not static but dynamic. Conversion is a verb. We are invited to make progress, to grow in our communion with the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. As we do, we come into a deeper understanding of the implications of that wonderful redemptive act of love upon us. We can then demonstrate His choice - for others to see - by living our own lives poured out for one another, indeed for all men and women to whom we are now sent. We come to grasp, or rather we are grasped by, the missionary nature of the Church and our own vocational participation in it. Jesus Christ comes alive for others in and through us.
Through our Baptism, we have become members of Christ's Body, His Church, through which He continues His redemptive mission in the "event of freedom" that is human existence. In this age that has succumbed to an idolatry of choice, we are now sent by the Lord of true Freedom to shine the light of His truth and expose the darkness. Part of our mission requires us to engage the contemporary language of "choice" and expose what Pope John Paul II once called the "counterfeit notion of freedom" that has led too many men, women and cultures into the slavery of sin.
The choices we make determine the people we become.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is currently a Doctoral student in Theology at the catholic University of America. Deacon Fournier writes regularly for Catholic Online. His eighth book "the Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" is available in bookstores.
Third Millennium, LLC
https://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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