We live in a time when our ability to exercise free will has almost completely been disconnected from the real reason that God gave us free will. God does not do anything by accident. If he did, he would not be perfect. Therefore, when God created us in his image, he did so for a very specific reason.
God created us in his image because he wants us to be able to share in his infinite love and happiness. However, God does not want to force us to share in his love and happiness. Forced “love” logically cannot be considered as “true love”. God wants true love not false love.
So God gave us the gift of free will so that we can choose whether to share in his eternal love and happiness, or not. That is the reason for our free will and each time that we exercise our free will, which is more often than we may realise, we make a decision, either consciously or subconsciously, to love or not to love God. To obey or to disobey God.
We must be aware that we are therefore constantly, throughout each day, choosing between God and Satan (yes, he is real), between Heaven and Hell (yes, it is also real). Everything that we think, say, do and don’t do, is a choice that we make. A choice that has an impact even if it is not immediately obvious to us.
“To which, Samuel said: Is Yahweh pleased by burnt offerings and sacrifices or by obedience to Yahweh's voice? Truly, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness than the fat of rams.”
So how do we choose to show our love for God? We do so by choosing to obey him in all things. There is no point in just telling God that we love him. We have to show God that we love him by being obedient to his will. If we don’t show God that we love him, through our choices, we are deliberately choosing to separate ourselves from God. We choose Satan and Hell before God!
Personally, I think that one of the biggest challenges that Catholics face today, regarding how they exercise their free will, comes from within the Church.
There are certain things in life that are clearly wrong. Our common sense knows, for example, that to steal is wrong. We know that to commit murder is wrong. We know that adultery is wrong. So, we can be quite certain of how we should exercise our free will when faced with these scenarios.
The confusion and extreme danger lies in those subject areas that are supposedly grey areas. I should point out that there are in fact no grey areas in the Church. The Church knows exactly what is right and what is wrong. Our Lord Jesus taught the Apostles. The Apostles in turn handed this teaching on through Sacred Tradition and of course through Sacred Scripture.
Any perceived “grey” areas that there may be, is entirely due to the lack of resolve of the people within the Church. I group these people in the Church, who lack resolve, into three categories.
There are those people whose role it is to be shepherds and who, because the Church has trained, taught and ordained them to be able to do so, are required to faithfully teach only the true teaching of the Church. Yet, some of these shepherds, for reasons I don’t understand, choose to ignore the true teaching of the Church by either never speaking on certain topics or, worse still, by deciding that they know better than the 2000 year old Church and proceed to mislead their sheep with false teaching.
Then there are those people who are not shepherds but who have made the effort, and rightly so, to learn about their Faith and the true teaching of the Church. Yet, some of these people, like some of the shepherds, also decide that they disagree or know better than the Church and therefore they choose to either ignore its teaching, or worse still, they lead others astray as well.
Finally, there are those Catholics who do absolutely nothing about ensuring that they know the true teaching of the Church. The last formation that they received about the Catholic Faith was when they were preparing for Confirmation. They maintain blissful ignorance, convinced that it is the responsibility of the shepherds to teach them right from wrong.
Yesterday’s Gospel reading got me thinking about this.
“'What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, "My boy, go and work in the vineyard today." He answered, "I will not go," but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, "Certainly, sir," but did not go. Which of the two did the father's will?' They said, 'The first.' Jesus said to them, 'In truth I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.”
The three groups of Catholics that I have described above strike me as the second son. These are all Catholics who have said yes to God. They have agreed to love God by being obedient to his teaching. Yet, they lack the resolve to carry it through.
Catholics clearly need to do more than just decide to love God. They have to actually show their love for God by obeying God. They cannot obey God unless they know what God expects. They learn what God expects in two ways:
The first is to have complete faith in God and in his Church. Sometimes even a child like faith. God promised that he would protect his Church. So, we can have complete faith that, through the Church, we will always find the true path to God.
“So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
When in doubt we should always turn to the successor of Peter, the head of the Church. In our age, because of communication mediums like Internet, we have direct, almost instant access, to various Church documents, like the Papal Encyclicals, all in our own language. We should always check and believe what the successor of Peter, the pope, teaches, before we believe anything or anyone else, no matter how many theological degrees the person may have. Let me give an example:
There is an on going debate regarding the ordination of women as priests in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II however made it abundantly clear that women cannot be ordained as priests. Whatever my feelings are on this matter, I trust the successor of Peter and his fellow bishops to guide me in this regard. Until they teach me otherwise, it is not for me to be the cause of disunity and dissent in the Church, by continually making this the subject of debate. Neither will I allow myself to be distracted by this. I have so many other areas of my life that need attention, if I am always to choose God above all else.
The second thing that Catholics need to do is accept responsibility for learning about the Catholic Faith. Each and every Catholic should have on the bedside table two books, which each Catholic should read and constantly refer to. (I actually believe there should be three books, though most people would disagree with me.) The first book is obviously the Bible. The second book is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I never understand why at Confirmation the Missal is given as a gift, but not the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Bible. They should receive all three and, most importantly, they should use these books so much that they look tired within a few months from being used constantly.
It is through the Church and through our constant personal enquiry about our Catholic Faith that we begin to know what to do to obey God completely.
The third book, if anyone is curious, is the Divine Office. This is the daily prayer of the Church. “We cannot pray at all times, if we do not pray at specific times”. You can read my post on the Divine Office here»».