“God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” – CCC 1730
At the writing of this article President Trump has yet to decide on a replacement for retiring Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy. One of the candidates, who is Catholic, has raised the concerns of some in the Senate that that candidate’s adherence to Catholic doctrine may lead to the overturn of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion some forty-five years ago. The above reference is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It should allay any concerns that any Catholic candidate for the Supreme Court would be compelled by doctrine to seek to overturn any Supreme Court’s decision unless it were found to be unconstitutional. Further, it should bring clarity to the meaning of free will for Catholics.
God is love itself and through it created man. This is so because love by its nature must be given away. Yet, we know by experience that love can be accepted or rejected. God could have made man as an automaton who would simply do His will without question. But, love requires a decision. And a decision often requires a sacrifice. For a “yes” to something means a “no” to something else. Without sacrifice love is meaningless. When a man buys an engagement ring for the woman he loves he chooses gold not tin. For gold is expensive and signifies sacrifice which shows the depth of his love for her. God expressed His love in fulfilling His promise to reconcile Himself to man. He did so through the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection. If not for Mary’s acceptance of God’s will, there would be no Incarnation. If not for the rejection of Christ, there would be no Crucifixion. And without each exercise here of free will, one consent and one dissent, the Resurrection would not have happened nor the forgiveness of sins be accomplished.
Man possesses free will because God allowed it. Jesus often had disciples turn away from Him because they found some of what He said unpalatable. Yet, although what He proclaimed was for their own good, He never forced anyone to obey against their will. He did not chase after them nor alter His message to win anyone over. For that is the way God had intended. That is the way of truth. One is free to take it or leave it. Each one of us is free to do God’s will or our own. We can either stop at a red traffic light or not. Each has its own reward.
As a Catholic I understand that I can no more stand in the way of what I believe to be evil than I can in what I know to be good. For if a Catholic were to do so he then would not be in compliance with God’s will as documented in the Catechism; to allow all persons the freedom to choose. However, as a practicing Catholic, I can enlighten others to choose wisely according to God’s will in which they will find true peace. This is accomplished by how I think, what I say, how I act, and how I live. If I think, speak, act and live my faith virtuously then others may be encouraged to take up their cross and follow Him.
So, did God then gamble in giving man free will? No, of course not. He could have created us strictly instinctual as the other creatures whose actions are so governed. However, no love is valid unless it comes by way of prudent reason, sacrifice and one’s own accord. For no one is more charming to God than when he says yes to His will, while having the option to say no. God made us captains of our own souls and therefore of our own destinies. We can share that destiny with Him or apart from Him. In the end God simply verifies our use of free will through the second person of the Holy Trinity, Christ, in His saying: “I know you or I know you not.” Free will places neither praise nor blame on God. Either one falls squarely on our own shoulders.