My generation is probably familiar with a quote from Spiderman’s Uncle Ben in the 2002 movie: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m sure someone else had said this line many years before Uncle Ben, but it is actually a good expression of our duty as human beings to choose good and avoid evil. Last week I wrote about the Church’s understanding of free choice, and I would like to expand on that today.
Free will implies a great responsibility that we have been given to choose the good. It is possible to gradually lose one’s freedom over time, if bad decisions are made over and over again. From the very beginning of Genesis, we see that a misuse of free will led to a lessening of the freedom of Adam and Eve, as they were banished from the Garden of Eden, having made their decision to reject God and choose sin. Paragraph 1739 of the Catechism says, “Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.”
Sin begets sin, as holiness begets holiness. After the Original Sin, Adam and Eve turned to blame, then not telling the whole truth to God about what had happened. Sin reduces our freedom, and a habitual sin is called a vice. Good actions increase our freedom, and good habits are called virtues. St. Paul often talks about this freedom in his letters. He wrote to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). By submitting to God’s will and accepting his grace, we become free to live lives of virtue and goodness. For someone who follows the false idea of freedom, or doing whatever one wants, freedom can actually be lost. “By deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth” (CCC 1740).
Jesus has saved us so that we can have the glorious freedom of the children of God. God adopted us as his sons and daughters when we were baptized, and he invites us to call him “Father.” God does not want us to see him simply as a master or a rule-maker, and he doesn’t want us to follow his rules simply because we are afraid of making him angry. He invites us to the fullness of life through prayer and the sacraments because he loves us and wants what is best for us. May we all confidently turn to God as our heavenly Father in true freedom. Sin is only an illusion of freedom, and it is our responsibility to seek that which is truly good.