Freedom allows us to use the gifts of reason and intellect to choose good. Our reason and will can steer us to act in love when unified with God’s will, but they can also be compromised, and are, by the lingering concupiscence of original sin. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is the example of freedom perfectly united with God’s will. Since Jesus did not have original sin, he was able to perfectly submit to God the Father. We, on the other hand, are sinful and must harness our freedom to God, using Christ as our example and God’s grace as our strength.
Freedom bound to God brings peace, bound to anything else brings sin. Since we are free but concupiscent, our task is to grow in perfection, fighting off the desire to sin in choosing evil. As servants of Christ, our approach must be to form our right conscience. The sacraments, Scripture, prayer, the liturgy, charitable action, Christian reading, and contemplating the saints channel the grace for us to grow in perfection.
When in sin, our freedom fails. We must choose God, not the self. Our self-interest is the same as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: We give in to lies in order to become our own masters of the universe. We must abandon the self and look to what is good and just, loving God above all as our Master and Creator and our neighbors as ourselves.
Voluntary bad choices assign personal responsibility. Every time we are given an option and choose what we know is wrong, we sin and are responsible for that free choice. But we who are in Christ are works in progress. Through God’s grace virtue, self-discipline, and formation of conscience guide us to control our seemingly impossible will, tethering our acts to God’s will.
Our responsibility diminishes or disappears in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that hinder the element of free, willful choice.
When we choose willfully to act against our right conscience, we are freely choosing to do what is wrong, and, therefore, the action is ascribed to us. Even when we are negligent, lazily failing to do the research and homework on an issue and as a result make a wrong choice, we are responsible, for it could have been prevented by tending to our responsibilities.
We are not ascribed responsibility when a bad outcome happens about which we did not know or foresee. If we could not have done anything to prevent the bad outcome, then it is not imputable to us. Willful knowledge and choice are key components to exercising our freedom.