The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 44, No 5, Sep-Oct 1991

Theology for the Laity

OUR FREE WILL
ó a Wonderful Gift
ó a Frightening Responsibility

By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

God created us to His own likeness and image, in order that He might share with us His own beatitude, His own divine life. In order to make us capable of sharing in His divine life (which is one of infinite LOVE and KNOWLEDGE of His own divine essence), He fashioned us with an intellect capable of sharing His infinite TRUTH, and a will capable of sharing in His infinite LOVE by the surrender of our will to His.

He not only gave us a will capable of loving Him, but a will that is free to love Him or not love Him . . . free to choose God as our ultimate good, or something other than God. He not only wanted to share with us His own happiness, but he wanted us to merit that beatitude; and no act is meritorious that is not free. He would give us all the helps necessary to merit that eternal reward, but we would have to freely prefer His will to our own whenever there is a conflict between the two.

Human freedom includes two things: on the part of the MIND, there is a judgment that one thing is preferable to another; on the part of the WILL, there is a choice by which this judgment is accepted and acted upon. The will is such that, of its nature, it always tends to the good- in much the same way as a falling stone always tends to fall downward. If that is so, how can we explain how we can so easily choose what is evil? The answer to that lies in the difference between real good, and apparent good. The will seeks what is good, or what appears to be good. As we saw in our last issue dealing with the passions of the body, they can be so intense that the judgment of the intellect can be gravely obscured, so that the will chooses not the true good which the light of reason proposes, but the apparent good which the body appetites are seeking, and which could be against the law of God. In such cases, says St. Thomas Aquinas, "the judgment of reason often follows the passions of the sensitive appetites, and consequently the willís movement follows it also, since it has a natural inclination to follow the judgment of reason." (1-11,77,1)

THE WILL - THE KEY FACULTY IN MAN

The human will is the key faculty in man. As the will is, so man is - good or evil. To the extent that the INTELLECT is perfected, we have a better informed person; but to the extent that the WILL is perfected, we have a better person. The will is the faculty ultimately responsible (under God) for our salvation, or our damnation.

We are saved or damned according to what we love; and it is the work of the will to love, to choose, to act. If we love God to the end (by our choices in keeping with His Will), we shall ultimately possess God and eternal beatitude. If, at the end of our life, we love self in preference to God (choosing our will in preference to His), we shall ultimately experience total separation from God - which is the essence of damnation. That is to say, we shall get what we choose. "God made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his own counsel . . . Before man is life and death, good and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him." (Ecclus. 15:14,18)

It should be clear, then, that the will is in the driverís seat . . . is the master of all the other faculties and members of the human body. Yet the willís reign is not an easy one; the subjects it controls (our sense faculties) are always ready for rebellion. As Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. points out, the sense appetites are neither a "den of iniquity" (even though they occasion many a downfall), nor are they a "holy of holies" (even though they may be the instrument of much mortification). By means of them one can rise to great heights, or can sink to great depths, but only because of the decisions of the will which alone receives the blame or the praise. Our will had no part in our creation, in our becoming man; but as to what sort of man we become, it will be decisive.

THE NEED OF GODíS GRACE

Speaking of the freedom of will, the second Vatican Council declared that man will achieve his human dignity when, emancipating himself from the captivity of passion, he freely chooses a goal that is good (i.e. in keeping with Godís will), and procures apt means to that end. It then continues:

This statement of the Council regarding manís freedom could be stated in another way:

It is clear from the above that man must strive to make his lower nature submissive to his will, and his will submissive to God; but that battle will never be won by his natural powers alone. As we stated in a previous issue of THE ROSARY, LIGHT AND LIFE, "in spite of all we have said about the need of mortification, the detachment of the heart (the will) from created goods is primarily a work of divine grace. It is effected primarily by God rather than by man. As St. Thomas Aquinas states: ĎManís will can only be subject to God when God draws manís will to Himselfí (I-II, 109, 7). Yet God demands a definite cooperation on our part before He liberates the heart (the will) from the strong hold that worldly goods and pleasures exercise over it." (Vol. 42, n. 2)

With each increase of grace and charity one is able to love God with a greater intensity, that is, with a greater willingness to sacrifice oneís own will in order to fulfill His. With each increase of grace, God more and more attracts the heart of man (the will) to Himself. "No man can come to Me, except the Father who sent Me draw him." (Jn. 12:32)

TWO NOTIONS OF FREEDOM

Pope John Paul II pointed out in his Apostolic Constitution on the Family that there is in the world a struggle between two freedoms that are in mutual conflict, because it is based on a conflict between two loves which are in mutual conflictóas expressed by St. Augustine: LOVE OF GOD to the point of disregarding self, and LOVE OF SELF to the point of disregarding God.

A) Love of God, to the point of disregarding self: This brings about the freedom of which Our Lord spoke:

The above expression of St. Augustine does not mean a disregarding of the basic necessities of life, but rather the self-denial needed to bring oneís lower nature under the control of the will. Only when one is liberated from the unruly demands of our fallen nature with its inclination to evil, is one truly free. This is a liberation within the heart of man (the will) . . . a freedom from being dominated by the world, the flesh, the ego . . . a freedom from the domination of anything that would cause the will to choose other than what God wills. It is a freedom that ennobles, that builds up, that brings man to his true fulfillment as intended by the Creator.

B) Love of self, to the point of disregarding God: This kind of freedom could better be called license, for it is a seeking of oneís own will in opposition to Godís. Such persons think they are free (as they understand freedom), but in reality they become slaves of this or that passion, material possession, or worldly satisfaction which dominates the heart and holds them captive. There are many references in the Scriptures to this false freedom:

The more the love of self becomes oneís master, the more he rejects Godís will and the limitations it imposes. Unlike true freedom which ennobles, this a freedom that destroys both the individual and society, for it disregards the will of the Creator and the order He imposed.

A UNION OF WILLS

The goal of the Christian life is to grow in union with God through the growth in divine grace. But here again, the will is the key faculty as regards that growth. In our life here on earth, that union is essentially a union of our will with Godís - aided by the infused virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. And there can be a union between an inferior being and an infinitely superior being, only by the surrender or submission of the lower to the higher. There can be a great latitude in the extent or fullness of that surrender, but the completeness of it indicates the growth in holiness. With each addition to the completeness of the surrender of manís will to God, added grace flows from the divine Font of Life to that human soul.

All forms of submission to Godís will are ways of opening the soul to the Holy Spirit, Who is the source of holiness in the Church. And the more one obeys Godís will the freer that surrender becomes, a freedom perfected by the Holy Spirit. As Fr. Pierre-Andre Liege, O.P. states, speaking of this action of the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit issues no edicts, rather, He appeals to the heart; he opens menís eyes, He gives the power to fulfill His commands. His compulsion is all from within." (Consider Christian Maturity, p. 87). This is a freedom whose perfection is attained, not by removing the external obstacles of the law, but by the Father drawing the heart of man to Himself through the action of the Holy Spirit. Yet the Holy Spirit respects our liberty and will not make Himself the Master of our will, unless we are disposed to surrender it to Him freely.

Although both men and angels were created with a free-will, they are nevertheless subject to the providence of God. That freedom can be the source of great potentialities, and the source of great responsibilities. Man knows that he can do wrong; but he also knows that he ought to do what is right. He knows that he can choose not to obey, to reject the Sovereign Good and choose instead created joys and satisfactions as his supreme good and last end; but he cannot choose the consequences of his choice. He can abuse his freedom, he can rebel (and every sin is a rebellion), but he cannot frustrate the plan of Godís providence as to the punishment to be meted out to those who refuse to submit to Godís all-wise and merciful laws.

Human freedom is real, but it is limited. It is not the right to choose between good and evil. Man has the capacity to choose evil, but not the right. Rather he has the right to choose apt means to attain an end in keeping with Godís laws. It is not a freedom from those laws; it is a freedom within them. Although it may sound like a contradiction, freedom is always bound up with obedience to the law of God. Every law that is habitually obeyed increases our freedom, for it further strengthens the mastery of the will over the other powers of the soul.

For this reason, as we pointed out in a previous issue "one rather reliable guide as to the kind of freedom one is seeking is oneís attitude toward obedience: for the worldly person looks on obedience as standing in the way of being free, while the true Christian sees it as an indispensable condition of becoming free." (Vol. 39, n. 2)

TRUE FREEDOM REQUIRES DISCIPLINE

Our will retains strong attachments to creatures, especially to the "ego," to which we stubbornly cling. Hence, to cooperate with the action of the Holy Spirit, it is important to strive to discipline all forms of selfishness. So many of our ďgood resolutionsĒ do not last because they are not true resolutions at all, but mere wishes; and when they are confronted with something we really want, they come tumbling down.

In stressing the role of the Holy Spirit and grace in liberating the will from undue worldly attachments, it would be sheer presumption to imagine that God will come with His liberating grace, if we do not do what we can. That inner freedom must be fought for with perseverance, and can be won only at a considerable price. We will never in this life attain the perfect freedom that our first parents had before the fall, but the whole of our spiritual life will be a striving for that goal.

The will can be trained in the same way as the memory or the intelligence, by actual exercise, self-discipline. One important means of training the will is to strengthen the motive, that is, to strive to retain a vivid idea of the goal to be attained. So often the vivid sense images presented by the imagination tend to overshadow and cloud out the good which the light of reason enlightened by faith presents to the will, causing the will to choose the former.

Consistent practicing of discipline and self-control will result in the acquisition of moral habits. One can, for example, conquer a bad temper by recalling that the frustrations, or irritations, or humiliations, etc. that make one angry are but aspects of the cross we are asked to carry, and are opportunities of surrender of our will to the all-wise providence of God. Or one can conquer a lazy disposition by making punctuality a point of persistent voluntary control. It is such efforts as these, along with prayer, that open the soul to the strengthening and liberating action of the Holy Spirit.

We speak of strong and weak characters. A person who consistently adheres to his decision to conquer some weakness shows a strong character; and one who easily give in to impulses, and changes his decision when the going becomes difficult shows a weak character. Since, however, the key to those decisions is the will, it is obvious that strength of character depends on strength of the will aided by divine grace.

The expression "strength of will," however, needs some clarification, for the will is a spiritual faculty and the act of the will is not subject to measurement. Too, one might be said to have a "strong will" who is stubborn and intractable in clinging to his own satisfactions. Strength of will in the Christian sense means a strength in sacrificing oneís own will in order that Godís will be done.

Commenting on an article of St. Thomas who is explaining St. Paulís reference to "slaves of sin" and "slaves of God" (II-II,183,4 . . . Rom. 6:20-22), Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. sums up well what we have tried to say:

"During our lifetime we always run the unhappy risk of throwing off our Lordís yoke, no matter how light it may be, and resisting His grace. This misfortune is the more to be feared when our will pretends to be its own master instead of abandoning itself to divine Providence; for the perfection of the will consists in placing itself in Godís hands, in making use of its own proper activity only to become more dependent on Him, in being always docile to grace. Let us offer our liberty to Jesus through Mary and try never to take it back again; in this holy slavery we find deliverance and a most sure road to heaven." (The Love of God & Cross of Jesus, 11, p. 346)


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