A Catholic-themed opinion blog about various topics, including theology, philosophy, politics and culture, from a Thomistic perspective.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Grace of Freedom

The process of conversion is widely-discussed but very difficult to understand, primarily because it is such an intimate and interior relationship between God and the individual person. But in His love, God has revealed much about it to us, and indeed all of us experience this conversion - even so-called "craddle Catholics", those born into the Church. Conversion is a lifelong activity, a journey of self-exorcism to remove our faults and to be redeemed in the purity of God, bringing us ever closer to the Beatific Vision Christ has opened for us all.

As a kind but just Father, He wants the absolute best for us, unsatisfied until we give ourselves fully to Him and His plan for our eternal lives. We are created for and by Him, and any estrangement from that purpose corrupts the condition of our spiritual, mental and physical lives. As the source of all goodness and truth, separation from God can only bring negativity. But God, in His all-knowing mercy, knows that we will fall, being born with an innate weakness to sin already, and so He gives us inborn faculties to discern and overcome this sin, and finally return to Him. These are conscience and reason. With conscience, "the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness". (see Romans 2:14-15 NIV) And with reason, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20 NIV) Yet, because of sin, our minds become confused and our hearts darkened. We need a cleansing to wash our eyes and restore our vision to its original clarity in the light of God's love and truth.

Each human soul is created with God-given free will. But like conversion itself, free will is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, usually either liberalize or condemn man. But true free will consists of two parts: the common idea of autonomy to choose between various options; and freedom from error and sin. True freedom is not only the capacity to decide, but to decide the right option. Sin and error enslave the will and the entirety of the person to the prison of confusion, ignorance and contradiction to God's will. But as sinful, finite creatures, we cannot attain complete freedom by our own effort; even the free will given to us is from birth distorted by original sin. However, God has opened up the cleansing I spoke of above: grace. Given by God's own perfect, sinless freedom, the grace of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life and wisdom, washes away the cloud of sin from us. It alleviates all pressure and influence from sin; while we still experience it, our will becomes empowered to freely choose the good, without being forced to do so.

By nature, God's grace is unearned, given purely by His objective love. Indeed, "God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:11 NIV). However: "it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." (Romans 2:13 NIV) And, through God's justice, "(t)he righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17 NIV). Even though we are capable of recognizing God's law, in all its forms, our will is weak and sinful. In order to see the divine truth of God's law, our will must be partially alleviated of this darkness. When our will turns to the true and good and we attempt to follow God, He gives grace - unearned, unmerited, but fairly rewarded for our faith, the faith to recognize God despite looking "through a glass darkly." This grace empowers us to live in faith, and to receive forgiveness and penitential rejuvenation when sin taints our spirits. By living in faith, according to God's law and through the channel of His Church, we are "declared righteous". Indeed: "we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) Knowing our sin and afflictions, God gives us avenues to heal and return to Him. He never abandons His children to torment in the dark death of sin, persistently yet gently offering us salvation even at the last moment of life and, to those already assured Beatitude, Purgatory in the afterlife.

As we have seen here, conversion is centered on three activities: obedience, faith and penance, in sequential order. Only by a life of conversion can we be made worthy of the promises of Christ, to truly be the image and likeness of God and fulfill our purpose to know, love and serve God and our fellow man.

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