Monday, May 25, 2015

Commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Freedom and Choosing the Good (1731-1737)

Commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Freedom and Choosing the Good
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.

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.

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.

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.

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."2

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.

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis [self discipline] enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

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.

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.

Our responsibility diminishes or disappears in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that hinder the element of free, willful choice.

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.

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.

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.

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.