God created us his image and likeness. Obedience to God brings us closest to Rabbi Yeshua, and therefore to be who we really are. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” Lk 1:38. The soul that moves away from obedience and towards disobedience replaces tranquility with stress. Like a medieval peasant on a torturer’s rack, his soul is torn between the saint he was created to be and the sinner he has chosen to become.
§ 1730 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.
Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.
I. Freedom and Responsibility
§ 1731 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.
§ 1732 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.
§ 1733 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.
§ 1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.
§ 1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.
§ 1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:
Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: “What is this that you have done?” He asked Cain the same question. The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.
An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.
§ 1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother’s exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver.
§ 1738 Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. the right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.
II. Human Freedom in the Economy of Salvation
§ 1739 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.
§ 1740 Threats to freedom. the exercise of freedom does not imply a right to say or do everything. It is false to maintain that man, the subject of this freedom, is an individual who is fully self-sufficient and whose finality is the satisfaction of his own interests in the enjoyment of earthly goods. Moreover, the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions that are needed for a just exercise of freedom are too often disregarded or violated. Such situations of blindness and injustice injure the moral life and involve the strong as well as the weak in the temptation to sin against charity. By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth.
§ 1741 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. Already we glory in the liberty of the children of God.
§ 1742 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.
Free Will Explained
Father Hardon told us, “The power of the will to determine itself and to act of itself, without compulsion from within or coercion from without. It is the faculty of an intelligent being to act or not act, to act this way or another way, and is therefore essentially different from the operations of irrational beings that merely respond to a stimulus and are conditioned by sensory objects.”
Cardinal Burke explains free will:
God made us in his own image and likeness. And that means that He made us to both know the truth and to live the truth in love. With our mind we come to know the truth; with our will, we love the truth and live the truth. Free will for us is never a question of license, namely doing whatever I please, because that really doesn’t make us free. And all of us have had the experience when we’ve just done what we please. Indeed, we don’t enjoy freedom. In fact, we become enslaved to one or another creature, or enslaved to a habit of sin.
Free will is developed in us through a discipline of our thoughts and our affections, and our words and our actions, so that they more and more are conformed to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. And as we attain that conformity with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, we experience a great freedom. We discover that freedom is not meant for my selfish enjoyment, but that true freedom is for the good of my brothers and sisters and the good of those who are around me. We discover that our greatest joy comes from being selfless and being generous and sacrificing ourselves, even when it hurts us very much, in order to love.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963 climaxed his I Have a Dream speech:
From every mountainside, let freedom ring! And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!