forgiveness free choice

True freedom

6:00:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

Today in our culture, we tend to idealize freedom. We want to decide our own path. We desire to form our own lives according to our sensibilities. This, of course, is not a bad thing in itself. On the contrary, it is a considerable good. The ability to determine one's way and to choose for one's self is central to the human person.

But what is freedom for? This is a question you do not often hear. Usually the focus in freedom is on being free from coercion. As long as no one interferes too much in my life, then I am free. This is fair enough, for one needs options to choose from in order to make a free choice. But which option are we supposed to choose? How should we choose to use our freedom?

In order to discover the answer, we need to realize that there is a close connection between truth and freedom. Every human person has a desire for truth. It is not until this desire for truth is satisfied that one can attain real freedom. One must know the truth in order to use freedom wisely. In his chapter "True Freedom" in Transformation in Christ, Dietrich von Hildebrand elaborates on the relationship between truth and freedom. (1) The truly free man considers all the options laid before him and looks to the objective value present in each one. He ought to be fully responsive to this value.

Take, for instance, someone who has experienced a grave wrong from a colleague. Suppose he has been lied to. However, the colleague has a change of heart and comes back, begging for forgiveness. The person in question has a choice to forgive or not to forgive this man. He knows that he has been wronged yet he should realize the importance of forgiveness. He graciously decides to forgive this man.

In a certain sense, the man who can forgive, overcoming his own pride, is more truly free than the man who cannot. He is not limited by his own pride. He can recognize the goodness of forgiving another and decide to enact it. Here one realizes that freedom is not about being free of constraints. It is about living the truth. One realizes the truth that it is better to forgive.

Freedom is about living the truth.

Von Hildebrand says that freedom must be grounded in ultimate truth. And what is the ultimate truth of the human person? That we are meant to love. We are meant to recognize the great value of others and to respond with self-giving love. Every person ought to love, and every person ought to be loved. This is the fulfillment of human freedom. Karol Wojtyla, in his book Love and Responsibility, said that “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” (2) Love is the highest act by which human freedom is brought to fulfillment. This is true freedom.
In our everyday lives, we make countless little choices. Often, the choice is between two good options. In light of the truth of the human person, we can say that our actions must always be governed by love. Thus, we can ask ourselves the questions: am I loving others in this moment? Or have I overlooked the value of others, focusing more on myself? What choice before me is more in accord with love?

The great dignity and value of the other should make an impact on us. When we meet another person, we should see one who demands love. In the moment of encounter, we should experience the call to love which lies imprinted on every human heart.

1. Dietrich von Hildebrand, “True Freedom” in Transformation in Christ (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001) 253-298.
2. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993) 135.

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