Freedom means always choosing the good, which is a challenge in today’s world that must be met with courage and resolve in order to attain to our human destiny of eternal communion with God.
By F. K. Bartels
13 June 2013
On 7 June 2013, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, Pope Francis received students along with their teachers and family members from Jesuit-run schools in Italy and Albania. Rather than reading from the text he had prepared, Pope Francis chose to answer questions and dialogue openly with those present. The atmosphere was informal, one of spontaneity and affection — a wonderful characteristic of the way our Holy Father speaks and teaches.
Pope Francis brought up a number of important and fundamental principles involved in properly educating young people, which are integral to an intellectually and spiritually enriched school environment. “School is one of the educational environments where one grows by learning how to live, how to become grown-up, mature men and women” said the Pope.
“Following what St. Ignatius teaches us,” the Holy Father continued, “the main element in school is learning to be magnanimous … This means having a big heart, having a greatness of soul. It means having grand ideals, the desire to achieve great things in response to what God asks of us and, precisely because of this, doing everyday things—all our daily actions, commitments, and meetings with people—well. [It means] doing the little everyday things with a big heart that is open to God and to others.”
Pope Francis spoke about how “school broadens not only your intellectual dimension, but also the human one.” Inseparably connected to the human dimension, is the concept of human freedom, which is the power to choose this or that, good or evil.
“Before all else be free persons!” said the Pope. “Freedom means knowing how to reflect on what we do, knowing how to evaluate … which are the behaviors that make us grow. It means always choosing the good…. Being free to always choose the good is challenging, but it will make you persons with a backbone, who know how to face life, [and live as] courageous and patient persons.”
It is important to further reflect on the concept of human freedom—something often misunderstood today. Also, a correct, adequate understanding of freedom and its proper use is crucial for educators who are engaged in the process of forming others, both young and old alike. If children and others are deprived of a full understanding of the power of freedom through the failings of an inadequate education, our society will continue to deteriorate morally.
In the first place, we must acknowledge where human freedom originates; otherwise, we can never hope to correctly understand it or properly and wisely use it. Since God is Creator, the origin of human freedom is self-evident. God created humankind; therefore human freedom originates in God. That is why whenever freedom is used in opposition to the love of God and the true good of others, it is a lie, a false freedom; it then becomes an abuse of the power God himself has given humankind. In doing this, man takes the life-sustaining energy and freedom God supplies and uses it as a weapon against goodness, which always brings harm to himself and to others in society.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that human 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” (CCC 1730).
We are free to choose to be free to love. God has given us freedom so we may freely choose him. It is only in possessing the power to make the free choice to love, to do the good, that we can choose God and his goodness without coercion. In his superabundant wisdom, God has willed to uphold the freedom he has granted to humankind, even in the face of man’s potential for committing indescribable evil, in order for man to be truly free to love. Consequently, man is also free to engage in terrifying actions, which, as history and the present demonstrates, he often does.
Further, nearly always there are attempts to disguise these evil actions as “rights” or as something “good,” such as we see today in the case of legalized abortion, which provides perhaps the darkest example of an inhuman freedom exercised without limits.
Abusing freedom, men begin to wrongly think they have the sole power to determine what freedom is, which leads to the mistaken idea that freedom exists to serve only the individual’s subjective wants or needs without consideration for what is truly good. Freedom, then, becomes distorted, expanded and exaggerated outside of its proper boundaries. When taken to the extreme, it is trumpeted as the “right” of the powerful to kill the weak.
We might wonder why an individual’s power to wield his own brand of freedom could come to be valued over the life of an innocent human person. While there may be a number of interrelated causes, it cannot be denied that the root of sin and its corresponding disregard for authentic freedom is pride. In fact, it was pride that brought on the fall of humankind at the dawn of history (see Genesis 3:1-19). A freedom infected by pride and selfishness is not real freedom at all, but only a dark, counterfeit and destructive shadow of it. Through pride, when man chooses himself over God and others, he denies the very origin and foundation of freedom, and, in that moment, willfully destroys the benefits and fruits that would otherwise be enjoyed by the exercise of authentic human freedom.
When we sin, we choose to wield the power of human freedom in such a way so as to deprive ourselves and others of what is truly good. Evil, then, is a deprivation of the good. While many people today insist on living as if God does not exist and believe freedom originates from man, as if man alone can determine what is good for himself or what makes him free, the very moment we journey down such a path we have begun to dismantle true freedom, tear it down and destroy it, and thus have set ourselves on a course for bringing about its death.
Another cause of the distortion and destruction of authentic freedom so common today is the lack of a proper education. There are countless examples of how people changed their views on freedom and its use after being exposed to a proper understanding of human freedom and human dignity, including the way in which the use of human free will determines one’s character and one’s final destiny.
In the power to choose is the power to truly live. If you possess God, you possess everything; and it is by your proper free choices that you come to possess God. If you abuse freedom, failing to make proper choices ordered toward true and authentic goodness, you distance or separate yourself from God, who is the source of love, happiness, truth, light, peace, security, and all other good things. To wield freedom wrongly is to war against your own goodness and happiness! Although a flower would never turn away from the Sun and bring about its own death; men choose to do much the same thing by their improper choices of free will.
On the other hand, the more you choose the good, the more you begin to love God for his sake and your neighbor as another self, the happier you become—you become truly free. In exercising freedom properly, you become a child of light, immersed in the joy and divine light of God.
“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).
God gives to humankind the highest power of movement: the power to choose. It is in exercising this power properly that humankind attaints to its destiny, which is everlasting communion with God. To order our choices toward the infinite and compassionate love of God—to choose to love God and neighbor—is to live in a fully human way. True freedom, then, is to live always and everywhere for the sake of the love of God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, offers us the perfect example of the proper use of human freedom. Jesus shows us it is the virtues of charity and holiness, caring for the poor, free and loving obedience, humility, meekness and so forth—God’s values and not the world’s—that bring us the victory over death. Through faith in Christ and love for him, our hearts are opened to the sending of his Spirit, whose divine love re-creates and transforms us, reproducing Christ within us, that we may freely live as the Father intended, as members of the divine family in the kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ, “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), is the Divine Freer of Humankind. His way is the way of salvation, love, and everlasting happiness. These sublime, highly desirable things, for which the heart of humankind unceasingly thirsts, can be attained by no other avenue than by way of the cross. This means living out true and authentic freedom is not easy, and will often bring with it difficulties, trials and persecution. However, after the cross dawns a new day of unending bliss, joy, and perfect happiness. Take heart, my dear friends, for these incomparably sweet things can be tasted even now, here in this place, by those who love Christ to the point of dying for his real, true and authentic human freedom.
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Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.