Joseph L. Narog, O.S.A.
Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova
Sir 15: 15-20
Ps 119: 1-2. 4=5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Cor 2: 6-10
Mt 5: 17-37
Free to Choose
Right from the beginning of creation, there were choices to be made by us humans. Arguably, the greatest gift we’ve been given by God is our free will. Despite not always using it well, we really wouldn’t be human without free will, would we? Unlike other creatures, we’ve been given the ability to choose - not just in small matters, but in those of ultimate consequence - as the Book of Sirach says in this Sunday’s 1st Reading, between “life and death, good and evil.” God so loves us that we freely can choose to love God in return - or not. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be true love. We know from experience that forced love isn’t love at all, is it?
Yet, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, as he continues his “Sermon on the Mount,” that we often need guidance in choosing, in taking responsibility, in using our free will. That’s the purpose behind the commandments. They’re a roadmap to keep us on course. Jesus also demonstrates that it goes deeper than the letter of the law, but to its spirit. What’s in our heart? What’s our intention? Are we choosing the fullness of life God offers us? We may not have killed anyone or committed adultery. We only may tell “little white lies.” But what does anger, lust, or lack of integrity say about our choosing and our loving?
Certainly sometimes unexpected or difficult circumstances are thrust upon us in life, but even then we still can make good, informed choices about how we deal with them. I still carry in my wallet a worn fortune cookie slip that advises, “We can’t control the wind, but we can always adjust the sails.” I can’t tell you how often I find myself praying for the grace and the wisdom to adjust my sails. It’s that wisdom, of which Sirach and St. Paul speak in our Readings, to live and love well that Jesus asks us to avail ourselves.
So as we prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day this Tuesday, perhaps it’s a good time to stop for a few moments and reflect on how we’ve been doing in using our free will. Have we been choosing to love God, especially in those around us? That’s a pertinent question for each of us, but especially for husbands and wives on this World Marriage Day. As with any vocation, we have to choose to say, “Yes,” to recommit ourselves on a daily basis.
Do we interpret freedom to mean doing whatever we please? One might say, “‘free from’ taking responsibility.” We see what this did for our first ancestors, what it’s done for some in our world and in our Church; harmful choices, sinful choices. It’s important to recall the words of Sirach - “No one does God command to act unjustly, to none does God give license to sin.” Isn’t freedom more a case of “free for?” Free for making a difference in others’ lives; free for using our talents for the greater good; free for expressing our love in healthy, positive ways. We can have compassion and respect for others - or we can treat people as if they don’t really matter. We can choose to help the poor - or we can ignore God’s call to love our neighbor. We can try to forgive - or we can nurse our resentments, our grudges. We all have choices.
Our own St. Thomas of Villanova puts it this way, “Love is so much your own that it cannot be stolen against your will. The martyrs are witnesses to you, examples of those from whom life could be stolen, but never love. They willingly gave up their life so as not to give up their love.” And Thomas concludes, “God has endowed us all with an equal ability and full liberty, so that whoever wishes may become rich in them.” (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sermon 1, 7-8) Let’s ask then that, today and in the week ahead, we may become rich in our ability and liberty - using well that gift which makes us fully human; freely willing, freely choosing to love God and one another; letting our “Yes” mean “Yes,” and our “No” mean “No.”