Our human dignity consists in being loved as God’s own sons and daughters, free to love in return. As Fr. Fernando Ocáriz relates:
Our divine filiation enables our freedom to expand with all the strength that God has bestowed on it. It is not by emancipating ourselves from the Father’s house that we become free, but rather by embracing the reality that we are sons or daughters. “Anyone who does not realize that he is a child of God is unaware of the deepest truth about himself” (St. Josemaría). Such a person is unaware of who he is and lives in conflict with himself. How liberating it is, then, to know that God loves us. How liberating is God’s pardon that allows us to return to ourselves and to our true home (see Luke 15:17-24). And when we pardon others, we also experience this liberation.
Our faith in God’s love for each one of us (see 1 John 4:16) leads us to respond with love. We can love because he has loved us first (see 1 John 4:10)… Giving love to God and to others is the most proper act of freedom. Love fulfills freedom, it redeems it. Love enables freedom to discover its origin and goal in God’s Love…
Our sense of divine filiation leads, then, to great interior freedom, to deep joy, and to the serene optimism of hope… [It] also leads us to love the world, which came forth good from the hands of our Father God. It leads us to face life with the clear awareness that it is possible to do good, to conquer sin, and to bring the world to God (Fr. Fernando Ocáriz, Pastoral Letter, January 9, 2018, n4).
Freedom, Virtue, Grace, and Law
Freedom takes effort because our human will is subject to temptation, weakness, and distraction. Virtues—habitual good acts that overcome ignorance, manipulation, fear, and other emotions—increase our freedom to seek the good of the one we love. Developing virtuous habits make loving and doing God’s will easier, giving us greater freedom. As the Catechism teaches:
“The human virtues are habitual and stable perfections of the intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They are acquired and strengthened by the repetition of morally good acts and they are purified and elevated by divine grace” (CCCC 378).
The repetition of good acts builds virtues, making it easier to love God and others. This is true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, and the source of true happiness.
“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God (St. Gregory of Nyssa)…” (CCCC, 377)
Grace is God’s love and mercy. Knowing we are loved moves us to freely love God in return: “the truth [that] will make you free” (John 8:32). The grace of the Holy Spirit working in our lives through faith in Jesus Christ strengthens us to endure periods of trial with inner freedom (see CCC 1742).
God’s law is also a gift—a grace—that guides our freedom and actions in ways that lead to union with God by pursuing the good of our beloved. As Pope St. John Paul II says: “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom: rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor 35).
The Law arose as God’s merciful response to man’s rejection, promising Adam and Eve a redeemer—of Eve’s seed—who would conquer the deceiver who led them into sin. To reassure us of his love, God made covenants: first through Noah, then through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finally through Moses, where God also gave us the Ten Commandments.
These Commandments are a father’s instruction to his children, teaching us about the demands of love. They teach us to put our Love—God—first, having no other loves before him; to respect the person we love in word, and the weekly anniversary of our covenant of love; to honor those who represent our Love, to remain faithful, to respect the life that flows from that Love, and to treat Love’s gifts and expressions in ways that always reflect that faithfulness. Such are God’s paternal admonitions to us.
Yet it is easy to treat those loving instructions as constraints emanating from a tyrant’s wrath that controls us by nagging threats of punishment. Such a childish outlook reduces morality to fulfilling commandments simply to avoid (eternal) punishments. If we reject God’s loving instruction—guideposts—we reject God’s love.
Living a life of virtue, grace, and law truly makes us free to love as God so created us.