Freedom has consequences. The capacity to make choices is constitutive of our being human persons and reflects an aspect of the Imago Dei, the Image of God, present within us. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their document on the Mission of the Church: “Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 17).
Thus, it can be said that, any authentic freedom should be exercised only within a moral constitution. That means it must be exercised in reference to the truth concerning the human person, the family, and our obligations in solidarity to one another and to the real common good.
In Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) St. John Paul II warned of what he called the “death of true freedom” (n. 40). This concern is also addressed repeatedly in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) where he writes of freedom’s “essential link with truth” and “inherently relational dimension” (n. 19). In his later encyclical letter Faith and Reason, Fides et Ratio, he wrote:
“It is not just that freedom is part of the act of faith: It is absolutely required. Indeed, it is faith that allows individuals to give consummate expression to their own freedom. Put differently, freedom is not realized in decisions made against God. For how could it be an exercise of true freedom to refuse to be open to the very reality which enables our self-realization? Men and women can accomplish no more important act in their lives than the act of faith; it is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth” (n. 13).
And all of this invites us all to pause and reflect upon our own lives, and our own choices. Lent, the forty days, is an opportune time to do just that. What are we choosing and who are we becoming? How do we exercise our human freedom? What will really make us happy?
St. Basil the Great was a monk, theologian, bishop of the fourth century, and a friend of Gregory of Nyssa.
He wrote a detailed Rule for Monks which contains another helpful insight into what we choose and who we become with which I will conclude:
“Love of God is not something that can be taught. We did not learn from someone else how to rejoice in light or want to live, or to love our parents or guardians. It is the same — perhaps even more so — with our love for God: It does not come by another’s teaching.
“As soon as the living creature (that is, man) comes to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love. When the school of God’s law admits this power of reason, it cultivates it diligently, skillfully nurtures it, and with God’s help brings it to perfection.
“For this reason, as by God’s gift, I find you with the zeal necessary to attain this end, and you on your part help me with your prayers. I will try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“First, let me say that we have already received from God the ability to fulfill all His commands. We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us. We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received. When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness. But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.
“This is the definition of sin: the misuse of powers given us by God for doing good; a use contrary to God’s commands. On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God’s command.
“Since this is so, we can say the same about love. Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence an innate power and ability to love. The proof of this is not to be sought outside ourselves, but each one can learn this from himself and in himself.
“It is natural for us to want things that are good and pleasing to the eye, even though at first different things seem beautiful and good to different people. In the same way, we love what is related to us or near to us, though we have not been taught to do so, and we spontaneously feel well disposed to our benefactors.
“What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and wonderful than God’s majesty? What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified of sin and cries out in its love: I am wounded by love? The radiance of divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.”