If there is anything I can remember from my high school experience it was that rules were the worst. At the time, I could have sworn that I was the only one among my friends with a curfew. Also, I would have bet anything that my parents were among the strictest around. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be free. I was young and wanted to assert my independence as often as possible. Looking back, as most of us come to realize, these ‘rules’ were in place to help shape us into who we are today. In order for us to move forward in life there has to be some boundaries and guidelines. Often times, there were things that my parents taught me that I didn’t understand at the time but my only option was to trust them and believe that they only wanted the best for me. I learned that when I rejected these valuable life lessons it only pointed out a shortcoming in my own character and not in their parenting style.
In today’s society there are many who reject the Catholic Church and even religion altogether because they feel as though the Church only seeks to limit their freedom. Many evangelicals take cheap shots and compare the Church to the scribes and the Pharisees in the scriptures who dished out their fair share of impossible-to-follow doctrines. Keep in mind, I don’t mean to speak divisively, but sentiments similar to the aforementioned ones are… well… misguided thoughts, to be charitable about it.
To better understand why such views still prevail, even today, we must consider what the most common understanding of freedom might be in the world today. Many people, even some Catholics, view freedom as the ability to do whatever, whenever, free from consequences. To an extent, this definition is actually correct, except for the no consequences part. As we learn from just growing up, doing what is right, as opposed to what is wrong, is a proven recipe for smooth sailing. Granted, trials will befall us; however, when we desire and live oriented towards what is truly good, we can survive any such trials. Because God created us in His image we are, by design, made to live in service to what is truly good. The occasion of sin that tempts us can often distort our created purpose and enslave us to our corporeal desires. Concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, lead us to believe that obliging our own immorality is actually the key to being truly free and that any attempt to stifle it is a limit to such freedom.
Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin. This first alienation engendered a multitude of others. From its outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom. – CCC 1739
Sin is the limit of our freedom. As the Gospel tells us, it is the truth of Christ that actually sets us free. This reality is most beautifully explained in that we were made by God and for God. Any number of analogies, for example, using a power tool for something other than its intended purpose making a job more difficult, can be used to describe how living contrary to our created purpose only serves to limit our intended freedom.
In light of the so-called rules and impossible doctrines of the Church, any amount of pure-intentioned prayer and discernment can reveal to us the parent-like nature of the Church itself. Like a mother seeking to keep her child from harm and guide them in the way they should go, the Church makes definitive statements regarding our purpose and morality so that we might live according to what God has in mind for us. There are many reasons as to why we might reject the Church’s rules, but these rejections most often point to a level of (intentional or innocent) ignorance or to the blindness that our conscience suffers due to habitual sin. The Catholic Church guides us into a more complete experience of God’s love. We will do well to remember that true love calls upon us to die to self for the good of the other. The Church doesn’t seek to take away your freedom; she seeks to guide you into eternity with Christ.
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