The freedom to choose

By | February 9, 2011

The readings could be united by the theme of choice. God’s grace leads and inspires us toward eternal life and we have the freedom to follow. His promptings are experienced both in the tug of the moment and in the broader life-long vocational beckoning. Both are brought together in the single call to “come follow me.” He is always present, directing life towards him, even in suffering and sorrow. For those who learn to follow, St. Paul promises that “eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor has it entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”


Fr. Mark Vander Steeg

The theme of choice opens in Sirach, one of the last books to be written in the accepted Old Testament canon. It is a book of wise sayings encouraging the sons of Israel to walk with the Lord in all things. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live …before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” Described so clearly the choice seems obvious: of course we choose God, until we experience the fallenness of humanity and the reality of the pull of sin.

Before the coming of Christ, Scripture reveals that humanity was in bondage to the pull of sin, collectively and individually. It was not until the resurrection of Christ and his promised sending of the Holy Spirit that humanity was given the power to overcome sin and to live a new life in God. This power in the Holy Spirit is given in baptism, sealed in confirmation and unleashed with every choice to radically live for love alone. In the Holy Spirit we have the power to choose a real life in God. This freedom is not “license to sin,” as Sirach notes, but rather the power to choose a life that leads towards heaven and our true selves.

This power completely transforms us from within. It is not that we simply “do not kill” as Jesus says, but rather that we even turn from “anger with our brother.” It is not simply that we do not “commit adultery” but that we even turn from lust itself. In the Gospel Christ is preparing his disciples for a righteousness that is from a Spirit driven core of new life. Thus freedom is not the experience of being hemmed in and restricted by the “law and the prophets” but rather it is the experience of power in the Holy Spirit to freely live the eternal core of the “law and the prophets”: it is a life of love lived in union with God. It is eternal life experienced now. To the extent that this transformation is not completed here, it will need to be finished beyond death before we are ready to see God. Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” The payment could be seen as the complete gift of ourselves in all its fullness, not holding back any love toward God, self or neighbor. At that point, and perhaps only then, will we be ready to be released into an eternity of love where God is all in all, and we love our neighbor as our very self.

Questions for Reflection

1. What act of love today could prepare me for eternity?

2. Where have others or I mistaken sin for freedom?


Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.

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