01 September 2015
Human Freedom by Bishop Boyea
Moses is pretty clear with the people about what they are to do--they are to observe all the commands which he will give them from God; he adds “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully.” This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing in the gospel reading from St. Mark. They were observing the commandments of the Lord very carefully and thus they asked Jesus why his own disciples did not wash their hands before eating, something required in the law.
Jesus then teaches a new form of morality. It is not the following of a set of rules and regulations, but rather it is conversion of heart. What comes out of a person is what constitutes goodness or impurity. Jesus notes that evil comes not from washing or not washing the hands, but from an evil heart. Jesus is telling us that what really matters is what is within us.
In essence then, Jesus is appealing to our human freedom. Because we are free we are responsible for our actions. We are responsible to shape our lives so that they attain truth and goodness, that is, so that they attain God. The trouble is, as Jesus was well aware, all too often we do not choose to do the good, but rather we choose to do evil. That was certainly the case with our first parents, Adam and Eve, but it is also true of each of us. We are, in a sense, slaves to sinfulness because we keep choosing sinfulness.
Because we are free, it is clear that we are responsible for this condition. We need more training in how to choose good rather than sinfulness. Our actions are good when two conditions are met: the thing we choose to do itself must be good; and, secondly, our intention or reason for doing it must also be good. Thus something is not good unless both these conditions are met. If we do the wrong thing (and somethings are wrong in themselves) for the right reason it is still the wrong thing to do (thus the end never justifies the means); if we do the right thing for the wrong reason it is not a good action we are performing, there may actually be a good which results, but that goodness is not credited to us since we have done it for a bad reason.
Jesus also wants us trained to do good, to be good and thus offers us a way out of our choosing sinfulness. He offers us the true freedom to choose to be God’s children rather than the false freedom to choose to stay in sin. It is when our hearts rest in Jesus that we are most open to his grace and the true exercise of our freedom.
This openness on our part is what is called our conscience. This is not just some intellectual thing, for it is also something of the heart. In our heart can be found our passions or our feelings. These can help us to do the good. If we have the most fundamental passion, love, then we are drawn to the good and we take joy in the presence of the good and then we do the good. This same feeling of love will mean that we hate evil and seek to avoid it and we feel sad in the presence of evil. In a sense we learn to hate what God hates—sin. Thus what fills our heart will have a direct bearing on what we decide to do, how we exercise our freedom, and thus these passions are part of our conscience.
But conscience is also an act of judgment; it is when we spend enough time to recognize with our intelligence that something is good. We need to take time to look into ourselves in order to hear this voice. This voice helps us to see the truth and to apply that truth in specific circumstances. It is what allows us to be responsible for our behavior. In order for this reasoning part of our conscience to work correctly it needs to be formed, to be instructed. This takes a lifetime. The Gospel and Christ’s cross must be our teachers from our earliest days. We are helped in this when our passions or our feelings push us in the right direction; we are also helped by the light of the Holy Spirit; and we are helped by the guidance of the Church. Sometimes our conscience is faced with difficult choices; then we need the help of all three of these.
So, if we, my sisters and brothers, are to follow a moral life as Jesus wishes us to, not merely by following a list of laws, then we must have a change of heart. We need to do two things: we need to open our feelings or our passions to the Lord so that he can fill us with his divine love; secondly, we need to educate our decision making process so that we will choose the good at all times, even in difficult circumstances. Jesus listed a lot of evils that come from within us; if he looks deep inside me, what does he see? A well of love which will lead to good, or an abyss of confusion which will lead to evil?
GOD BLESS YOU ALL