The interplay of grace and human freedom.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
14 May 2016
During Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, October 18, 2006, he spoke of the mystery involved in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. There is a great deal we can learn from the story of Judas in relation to the interplay of grace and human freedom.
When we reflect on the fact that Jesus deliberately chose Judas as one of the twelve knowing that he would betray him, and that Judas freely chose his own opposing path, we encounter the mystery of the call of God to humanity and its struggle with the exercise of human freedom. The proper use of human freedom, which is always in obedience to the loving plan of God, is the path to the happiness, joy and liberation God offers his children. When human freedom is used in a disordered way, in opposition to the plan of God, the creature attempts to raise himself above the Creator and individual autonomy becomes a way of life, a way of viewing things and making choices; it becomes one’s god.
God created the human person with free will, a fundamental way in which humanity images God. This power granted by God to intentionally and freely choose this or that, good or evil on the basis of reason, is the human person’s highest power of movement. This is so because a person self-determines his character and destiny by his deliberate and reasoned choices. Free will, when used for true goodness and love, is beautiful; when used in a disordered fashion, is terrifying.
Jesus invited Judas into his company to walk with him. Jesus did not impose his will on Judas but respected his human freedom, as God always respects our freedom. God does not subdue our will or force our hand, but allows us complete freedom to choose either his way or ours. This kind of freedom is necessary for love. To choose God and what is truly good is, then, the highest and most perfect use of human freedom; it is the use of freedom directed at love. The choice before Judas was either to walk with Jesus in the way of truth and life or walk away from him in the way of darkness and death. Judas gave in to the temptations of the evil one and turned against Jesus and his invitation to fellowship, taking a path of individualistic human autonomy that placed him in conflict with Jesus.
In postmodern society, individual human autonomy is something highly celebrated, which gets at the depth of the seriousness of the errors of our day. A critical spirit of opposition to God and the Church concerning various areas of morality, especially those which involve human sexuality, is now viewed as the intelligent thing to do. However, it is precisely the unintelligent thing to do, since human intelligence is a God-given gift that is ordered toward seeking what is true, living by it, and thus coming to possess God who is perfect and absolute Truth. It is not possible to enjoy true and lasting happiness at the exclusion of God. The intelligent way to live is in harmony with what is really true and real, within the context of God’s plan of love, which brings happiness—although the cross cannot be overlooked or avoided.
Through the proper and well-ordered use of intellect and freedom, the human person directs his life toward God and attains his destiny and the fulfillment of every human desire. Postmodern autonomy, however, has replaced this truth with a lie: that the human creature finds in himself every solution. This is the lie of the evil one. It is a perversion of the human heart. It is directly opposed to Jesus who is himself the “way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) and the divine agent of human fulfillment.
Pope Benedict observes that the antidote to the many perversions of the human heart is found precisely in the opposite of individualistic human autonomy. It is found in free and loving obedience to Jesus and in living in intimate communion with him:
“The possibilities to pervert the human heart are truly many. The only way to prevent it consists in not cultivating an individualistic, autonomous vision of things, but on the contrary, by putting oneself always on the side of Jesus, assuming his point of view. We must daily seek to build full communion with him.”
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Photo Credit: Eilif Peterssen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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.