“We are rational beings and therefore like God, we are created with free wills and are masters over our own actions” (paraphrased from Catechism of the Catholic Church 1730). What a gift! What an opportunity! And the secret ingredient that fuels our freedom to choose is personal consent. It is necessary for making rational choices and taking rational actions. The old saying — the devil made me do it — is fiction and excuse. No entity can make us do anything — with our full consent — because of the fact that we have free wills. Taking ownership of this fact helps ensure that we believe and act as if we are the masters of our own actions — as it should be.
When we blame others for things that go wrong in our lives — more often the case for the young and immature — we essentially deny our unique human dignity. The blame game — which started with Eve in the Garden of Eden — is still present today. It continues to erode our sense of self-worth and self-mastery.
High school yearbooks are famous for posting altruistic mottos for life. Our daughter, Michelle, stated that her life’s motto was to live fully and without regret. It would be such a worthwhile life if we could actually make that happen, right? But is that true? A person faithfully working out his/her sainthood status here on earth is the first to admit or acknowledge wrongdoing against another person. This awareness fuels a proper sense of regret prompting her to do better the next time while acknowledging that she was fully responsible for her own words and actions. On the other hand, the narcissist mostly fails to see how her actions or words hurt others. This also fails to prompt feelings of regret and therefore she is less able to do better the next time.
Mindfulness of our words, actions, and thoughts is a great virtue made possible by accepting God’s design and truth with regard to human dignity and freedom of consent. Continued ownership (awareness of the gift of consent) of our words and actions helps us to better understand ourselves, the world and God. It will allow us to forego regret caused by lost opportunity, the spent arrow and the spoken word. These three items symbolize things that can never be undone or taken back. Once we consent to wasting time and opportunity, we can’t turn back the clock. Once we consent to speak unkind words, they can’t be unsaid. Once we shoot the arrow, it gets lost in the thicket of life.
Bishop Barron describes how the gift of personal consent is the lynchpin to faith. (I hope all of you have the opportunity to read or participate in The Mass by Bishop Barron.) He explains that God will never impose his Will on us — even though it’s perfectly within his right and ability to do so. Rather, God waits for us to strive to align our wills to His Will — freely and purposefully — in order to become the best version of ourselves. This is how we avoid those great regrets in life that can never be undone or healed.
Consider how Mary responded to Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She accepted — consented — to the proposal from the Holy Spirit freely and willingly. Abraham has been credited with having great faith when consenting to do what God asked of Him, including his willingness to sacrifice his own son. (Genesis 22; The Mass by Bishop Barron). Jesus prayed that the cup be taken from him, but added, “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Our greatest regrets result from our handing over to someone or something else our free consent. For example, we lose the freedom to choose freely (and without strings) when we give in to the siren call of pornography, heroin, gambling, and any other addictive substances and behaviors including social media frenzy, and cell phones. The list could go on and on and on. We would never willingly hand over our free consent to someone else if/when we realize just how precious is our ingrained freedom to choose. We would never hand over our free consent to someone or something else if/when we realize just how precious we are to God. And we would never hand over our free consent to someone or something if we had authentic faith, hope, and love. God gives us the freedom to choose but with this warning:
God in the beginning created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.” (Sirach 15:14-17)
These are the two choices we all face. How well you and I are doing is completely up to us! What a blessing! What a challenge!
Copyright 2019 Linda Kracht