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Ability to Choose

In 13 Today's Church on 2017/03/24 at 12:00 AM

• Of all of the characteristics that set man apart from the rest of the natural world, our ability to choose is the most fundamental.

• In His great love and solicitude, the Creator has endowed man with the capacity and the freedom to make decisions for himself. So unlike the animals, we are not bound to act according to instincts. We are not bound to act even according to our emotions.

• Rather, we can exercise our intellects to assess any given situation and then decide upon our course of action.

• Our Lord gave us this capacity and freedom not simply because He loves us. Ultimately, our Lord gave us this capacity and freedom so that we could choose to love Him in return, for love is always a choice – not simply an emotion.

• As we learned last Sunday, our love for God is best shown through obedience to Him and His most adorable will. God gave us the capacity and freedom to choose so that we would choose to obey His will in every situation, and thereby show our love for Him.

• For every act of obedience to God and His divine will is in essence an act of love. And not only do we show our love for God by our obedience to Him, but we are ennobled and made holier by choosing God’s will over our own.

• Throughout the course of a normal day, each of us is confronted with hundreds of decisions we must make, many of which are decisions of little consequence, such as what shoes we will wear.

• Other decisions, such as what we eat or how we carry out our work, may affect our health, livelihood, and well being, and therefore are decisions that we weigh with more gravitas.

• But even more important than these decisions affecting our health and livelihood are the moral choices that we must make, specially when we are confronted with the temptation to sin. This, of course, is the theme of our readings today.

• The good news is that if we do choose to sin, we know that our Lord will show us His mercy and forgive us if we are truly sorry for the sin. Our Lord will even forgive the gravest and most serious of sins if we are truly sorry for them.

• But even though God will always forgive the contrite sinner, there is always a price to pay for our sins, for every sin we commit – no matter how big or small we may think it is –damages us and those around us.

• The Catechism teaches that: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (CCC #1849).

• “Sin is an offense against God…. Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil” (CCC #1850).

• “Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation” (CCC #1850).

• The Catechism goes on to teach us that: “Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations, which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil” (CCC #1865).

• So by using our capacity and freedom to choose in a sinful manner, we undermine our capacity and freedom to choose in the future.

• Any sin that is committed repeatedly distorts our judgment so that good and evil are not as readily apparent. We see this most starkly in people whose consciences are sufficiently deadened to enable them to regularly commit the gravest of sins, such as abortionists or prostitutes or hardened criminals.

• But we also see this phenomenon in the not-so-hardened sinner who has learned to justify his or her sinful behavior, such as a student who regularly cheats on tests, or a couple who contracepts, or a teenager who routinely lies in order to avoid punishment.

• Furthermore, any sin that is committed repeatedly enslaves us, robbing us of the freedom to say no to it. Anyone who suffers from an addiction is living proof of this truth. Simply put, the more we commit a sin, the more likely we will commit it again.

• But while sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, it cannot destroy man’s moral sense at its root (cf. CCC #1865). On some level, man always retains some capacity – as mitigated and corrupted as it might be – to choose.

• Thus, my brothers and sisters, it is of utmost importance that we make a fundamental choice to obey God in order to protect ourselves from the consequences of sin.

• Our readings today set up a dichotomy between the first Adam, who by his sinful life unleashed a spiritual death upon all of his progeny, and the new Adam: Jesus Christ, who by His death made life possible once again for all who choose to follow Him.

• We see in the stories from our first reading and Gospel how each of these Adams confronted temptation. The first Adam, in a fit of pride, was seduced by the evil one, while Christ humbly countered temptation with the spiritual tools of prayer and fasting.

• Holy Mother Church gives us these readings today on this 1st Sunday of Lent as a means of strengthening us and preparing us for our Lenten journey, through which we hope to imitate Christ through the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

• She gives us these readings at the beginning of this holy season of self-renewal as an encouragement for us to choose to be like Jesus Christ, the new Adam, rather than the first Adam who fell from grace.

• This fundamental choice of the spiritual life is one that we must make every day, for every day we are confronted with temptation. Temptation to sin is and always will be a constant in our lives. It’s never going to go away.

• So we must learn how to exercise our free will to say no always to temptation so that we might avoid the devastation and horror of sin.

• To help us in this battle, we have the spiritual tools of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, which unite us more firmly to God, strengthen our wills, and increase our charity.

• These spiritual tools help us make reparation for our sins, and they help to undo the damage caused by our sins. As such, the practices of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving are absolutely indispensable for any of us who have repeatedly fallen into grave sin.

• And so, my brothers and sisters, as we begin our way through the desert of Lent, let us be firm in our commitment to increased prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. But even more importantly, let us be firm in choosing to serve God, and God alone.

• May our Lord, in His mercy, strengthen us all against every temptation this Lenten season.

Copyright 2011 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC

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