Paul the Apostle - El Grecco
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
for Alfie Evans, 20 Months old.
Socialized medicine in Britain cannot diagnose his problem, refuses to let
him go elsewhere,
and now wants to take him off life-support.
On Free Will
Today our Lord describes the various
kinds of people for us.
Those who do not hear the word of God; those who hear it but quickly loose
the faith; those who persevere in faith but who give themselves over to the
temptations of the world; and those who persevere both in the faith and in
the keeping of God's commandments.
Obviously it is our Lord's wish—and
ought to be our wish as well—that we fall into this last class: We hope to
be among “the seed that falls on good ground,” among those who “with a good
and perfect heart hear the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in
And, toward that end, there is an
important point for us to remember. While the story is correct as far as it
goes, it is only a parable, or a metaphor. There is one very important
difference between the people who inhabit this earth and the seed sown by
the sower of this parable: The seeds of the parable are incapable of doing
anything about their condition. Those sown on bad ground obviously stay
where they fall, and likewise those that fall on good ground. People are
different, not just in that we can change location when we wish, but it that
we have “free will.”
If we don't know much about Christ,
we can make up our minds to learn more. We have the ability to decide
whether God is more or less important in our lives. We have the capacity to
resist temptation or to give ourselves over to it. We have the ability to
make a reasonably holy life yet even more holy, or to drift away from God
and become less holy. This “free will” is obviously a two-edged sword. It
can work for or against us.
Now, sometimes, people ask: “Why did
God make us this way? with the ability to choose evil instead of good?”
The answer lies in that Catechism question that we learned years ago: “Why
did God make us? God made us to show forth His glory in this world.”
If God made us like robots—machines that could only follow His
pre-programmed instructions—the things we did would not be particularly
glorious; nor would they merit very much of His love.
Let me give you an example: You may
be very pleased with your clothes washing machine. Every Monday for years
it has done your laundry. But even this faithful service doesn't cause you
to feel any affection for the machine, or to feel at all indebted to it. It
is just doing what it is built to do. But, let's say that one Monday
morning you're not feeling well, and your youngest son—who is usually not
good for much of anything—he gets up, and seeing that you are ill, gathers
all the laundry and does it for you; and dries and irons and folds and all
of the other things that need to be done. In this second case, the feeling
is different: You are grateful for the help, and you feel appreciated, and
you feel, perhaps, affection or pride (that the kid finally did something
around the house). The difference, of course, is that your son has free
will, and could have gone off and ignored your needs, but freely chose to
help you when you needed it.
And we find that if people regularly
help each other in this way, they develop a “relationship”—they like each
other; they get along; they will go out of their way for each other.
Obviously no such “relationship” is possible with a machine.
So God created us with this free
will; so that we could relate to one another, of course, but more
importantly so that we could relate to God, and so that God could even
relate to us. Without free will there would be no “evil” in the proper
sense of the word, but there would also be no real good.
Incidentally, that is why the Church
has us make our first Confession about the time we make our first
Communion—the maturity of reason that allows a child to merit grace for his
good actions also makes him responsible for his bad actions; his sins.
Now, often enough we hear people
claiming that their free will is too much of a burden—that there are too
many things forbidden to them in this world that just cry out, tempting them
to do evil. I think, perhaps, the best answer to that is contained in
Epistle that we read today. Saint Paul was probably a man about 50 years
old when he wrote the lines we read today; and he was probably not much
younger than 40 when he did any of the things he tells us about in this
adventure story. He also seems to have had a physical problem, although we
aren't exactly sure what his “sting in the flesh” was. Certainly, he would
have been tempted just to stay home somewhere and not risk any more
shipwrecks or escapes through windows in w
But «God's grace was sufficient for
him; God's power was made perfect in Paul's weakness.»
And the same is true for us. If a
middle aged Paul could endure hunger and thirst, and beatings and stonings,
then we ought to be at least able to keep the Commandments. And if we find
that we are unable to do so, it is probably because we have not made our
lives enough of an “adventure for Christ.” Perhaps we need to take on a
little bit more difficulty in order for us to rise above the level of
mundane sinfulness. If we make ourselves like Paul—at least in our
enthusiasm for the Faith and for its spread far and wide—then we too will be
able to «glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in
God has given us free will that we
may love Him and that He may love us. His grace is sufficient for us. His
power is made perfect in us.