Are You Free when You Choose Evil?

24 March 2010 Wednesday of the 5th Week of Lent
Deut 3, 14-20, 91-95; Daniel 3; John 8, 31-42

There is a dialogue between Jesus and the Jews in the Gospel. The issue is this: If Jesus is the unique Son of God, what will become of the Jews who refuse to believe in Him? The Jews themselves claim that Abraham is their father (v. 33, 39). They trace their origin to Abraham. Jesus answered them that though they are from Abraham’s stock (v. 37), they actually deny their origin because they refuse to do what Abraham did---believe. Since the Jews does not believe in the Son of God, they turn away from that truth. If action indicates our origins, then, theirs show that their source is other than God whom Abraham believed in the first place.

In the readings, Jesus said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth then is that Jesus is the Son of God. If we believe in what the Son says, then we will be free. We will not be enslaved by sin.

Freedom is commonly defined as the ability to choose. According to common knowledge, whether the choice is good or evil, it is still a practice of freedom. However, Christianity qualifies the choice, and thus redefines, freedom. For believers, to be free means to choose the truth, to choose God. Since God is good, then the choice in freedom can never be a decision to do evil. The nature of God cannot be evil.

Sin enslaves. It controls us. If we look into our experiences, many of our habitual sins are done automatically and never goes through a process of discernment. We do it, because we are used to it. It is indeed an addiction. Just as chemical addictions such as alcohol and drugs control actions and decisions, our habitual sins control our lives. When we lie, for example, we find it pleasurable because it protects us. Like the first taste of an addictive substance, the first experience hooks us. And so, we lie again, and again, and again. Eventually, we become not the person who lies, but a liar. Lying becomes us. Thus to choose to sin is to have ourselves be imprisoned by the sin, and therefore, we are not free.

However, when we choose to do what is good, we do feel that a heavy burden has been lifted up from us. We feel peaceful and light. And this feeling tells us about who we are: we are children of God --- not rational animals.

Take for example forgiveness. There is a common notion about forgiveness: forgive and forget. But I do not agree with the “forget” part: forgiveness entails remembrance. We remember the reactive behavioral pattern so that when the fault occurs again, we are able to correct and contribute to the person’s re-formation. Jesus said that we are to give feedback because we are responsible for others. But we cannot give feedback if we forget what the sin was, when it happened, how it hurt, and how frequent it had been done. To give good feedback is a way of love: its source is concern. Gusto natin mapabuti yung taong sanhi ng ating sugat.

Forgiveness means that we are freed from the hurt that has been done. The pain that others inflicted on us do not affect our thoughts, our work, our decisions, our life. We do not allow that pain to make us bad. Friendships are maintained this way: our friend sometimes say a painful remark about us, and we get hurt. But when we forgive them, we say that that painful remark will not anymore affect the way we treat them. When we forgive we accept the fact that we will continually be vulnerable to the elements of a relationship. We are hurt because we love.

However, we remember. So that when it happens again, we are able to help our friends change by pointing out to them the bad habits that they are not aware of. It is through this that we help each other grow.

We reclaim our freedom through two things. First, sacramentally. With God, we experience freedom when we ask for forgiveness. And though the priest is also a sinner, we need someone to articulate that we have been forgiven. And in addition, we need someone who can name sinful patterns. Ideally, the confessor in the Sacrament of Reconciliation points out what enslaves us and then suggests ways to be freed from them. That is why coming to confession needs time. In a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines, confessions are done quickly because of the long lines of penitents especially during Holy Week. We do this fast confessions for pastoral reasons. But in ordinary circumstances, we are highly encouraged to have a regular confessor or a spiritual director. When we come to a regular priest who hears our confessions, he can help us in our journey towards becoming a truly child of God.

Second, we can do it practically. To be free from a sinful habit, we first have to identify what we have to change. And then, we do its opposite repeatedly, until we have replaced the bad habit into a good one. Studies say that we need 21 days to form a habit and so we need 21 days to form a good habit.

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