The freedom of choice bestowed on humankind by God is the subject of the third article in Life in Christ of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The section begins with an Old Testament quotation that serves as a promise and a warning. (CCC#1730) An ancient sage praised the human freedom to seek God by choice, but his writing went on to remind that with great hope, there is also the danger of making the wrong choice.
While Catholics and Orthodox include the Book of Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus or The Wisdom of Ben Sira), it is not generally found in other Christian or Jewish versions of the Old Testament. Even though the book was written near 180BC, it was considered for inclusion as an apocryphal book in the New Testament, but did not make the final canon as such. The writing was created by Yeshua (Jesus) Ben Sira and appears to have been used extensively as a teaching tool. It wasn’t until the author’s grandson discovered the significant meaning of the work that it was translated into wide distribution with the common Greek language.
Chapter 15 of Sirach begins with Ben Sira praising those who seek wisdom, something his life was dedicated to. He assured them that with their search, a most eager response would follow; wisdom would literally open her doors to the seeker. Then he turns with calm scorn to those who blame God for the choices they make, for it is nowhere in God’s design to lure humans into making bad choices.
Ben Sira reminds that in the beginning, the Creator made man with complete free will. He points out that it’s a free choice to obey or not obey the commandments, but it is loyalty when one chooses to do the will of God. The sage told his listeners to sit before them fire and water; to whichever he/she chooses, they should extend their hand and see what they touch. Likewise, he added, and more importantly, that everyone had the choice before them of life or death, and which one they choose is the one they receive. These are stark words that have always held a meaning for those who chose Life in Christ…or not.
The catechism article, Man’s Freedom, elaborates on the Sirachian sermon. Freedom was given with the intention that people would choose God, but until the choice has been made to completely attach ones self to the Lord, the possibility of choosing evil ways lays in wait. Good choices increase freedom, and that freedom translates to human virtue, another part of life in Christ. Humans have the capacity and the freedom to deliberately choose to do good.
Humans have not been infallible in their choices. In fact, as the catechism points out, we’ve already shown our propensity to sin. The first sin in the Bible is disobeying God. Because of that, other evils came into the human consciousness. Thus, the biggest threat to freedom of choice is our own abuse and misuse of the privilege. The gift does not give individuals the right to say or do anything they please. There are still consequences for wrong choices. Sin is a prison, and choosing it greatly limits the ability to make right choices.
On the Fifth Sunday of Easter, the faithful heard John’s Gospel reading in which Jesus said simply, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This portion of the catechism stresses that statement to its fullest. Choose Jesus, and one finds the Way. Know Jesus, and one knows he is the pure Truth. To practice choosing and knowing Jesus, one finds the road to salvation and life. It is through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the voice of God as our guide, that humans can accomplish all that freedom and life in Christ implies. Jesus told them that if they remained in his word, that is to follow the example he taught, that they would be his disciples; they would come to know Truth, and the Truth would set them free. (John 8:31-32)
Man’s Freedom concludes with a quotation from the opening prayer used on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is an affirmation asking our merciful God to steer us away from harm. We ask for freedom of mind and body, in accordance with the Holy Spirit, to do his work on earth. We are therefore asking for the freedom to choose Christ and bear the responsibility of living Christlike in this world. Right or wrong, the freedom to choose is yours. (CCC#1731-48)