On Free Will

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/09/09 at 12:00 AM

• While most Catholic pilgrims to the city of Paris generally flock to Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle and Rue de Bac, my favorite church in Paris is Saint-Étienne-du- Mont, which though off the beaten path a bit, is just as stunningly beautiful as the more famous houses of worship in the City of Light.
• Best known for being the resting place of St. Genevieve, Paris’ patroness, Saint-Étienne also houses the tomb of the French philosopher and physicist, Blaise Pascal, whom most of us know for his famous wager!
• Pascal’s wager states that it is a better bet for a man to believe in God and embrace His commandments, rather than not believe in God and live contrary to His laws.
• For if a man believes in God and tries to live a virtuous life, but finds upon death that there is no God, all that he lost was of finite value – perhaps some of life’s pleasures.
• But if a man does not believe in God and lives contrary to His laws, and finds upon death that there is a God, then his loss will be infinite, for he will have lost his soul for eternity.
• Pascal’s point was that we all wager our souls by the way we live. Either we live for God, or we live for ourselves. And in Pascal’s mind, it makes much more sense to live according to God’s laws rather than risk our souls on the fleeting pleasures of sin.
• This bold and startling reality of all of us having to choose either for God and His commandments or against Him is set before us today in our readings.
• Sirach tells us today in no uncertain terms that God will honor our choice. He says: “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” He also tells us that, “if [we] trust in God, [we] shall live.”
• And in the Gospel Jesus makes it clear that He has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them! Those who break God’s commandments and teach others to do so will be the least in the kingdom of heaven.
• “But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And then He goes on to discuss how to overcome certain sins.
• So it seems rather simple, doesn’t it? If we just follow God’s commandments, we will be saved, right? The short answer is yes!
• If we obey the Ten Commandments while also keeping the 2 greatest commandments of truly loving God above all else and loving our neighbor as ourselves, we have every right to hope in God’s salvation. Just as Sirach tells us today, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you.”
• But always keeping the commandments in each and every circumstance, and choosing to love God above all else and our neighbors as ourselves isn’t always as easy as it sounds, is it? Sometimes, even when we know better, we disobey God’s laws, don’t we?
• That’s the scourge of concupiscence; it’s our sad inheritance from Adam and Eve’s sin.
• Our Father in Heaven has given us the great gift of free will so that we might choose to love Him by following His commands. However this same great gift that enables us to love God
can be used by us to turn against God. That’s the problem!
• Even for those of us who know and love God and who believe in the truths of our Catholic
faith, always choosing for God is difficult, for we all have to wrestle with 3 great foes: the
world, the flesh, and the devil. At times they are fierce foes indeed!
• Each of these foes can work against us so that we use our free will not for loving God, but for
turning away from Him. So let’s look at each of them.
• St. Paul speaks a little bit about the influence of the world in our epistle today, noting how the wisdom of our faith runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. Just as in Paul’s day, our Catholic values stand in stark contrast to the values our culture now embraces.
• When the culture around you espouses tantalizing and enticing values like sexual freedom, the importance of wealth and material goods, and moral relativism, it’s easy to begin believing that the world’s values are the right values.
• What makes things worse in our society is that our government is now embracing as good things contrary to the very laws of nature, like same sex unions and contraception.
• And as these evils are enshrined into our laws, it makes it easier for the poorly formed Christian to believe the lie that these evils are good, and it makes it harder for the well formed Christian to practice his faith with integrity.
• As for the devil, we must remember two things: First, that he is alive and well and working to take our souls to hell; second, that he is a liar who, like a skillful politician, will often use half truths to tempt us to sin – just as he did with Adam and Eve.
• Not every temptation we experience comes from the evil one and his demons, but certainly some of them do. The hallmarks of his handiwork are fear, despair, pride, hatred, and unfulfilled promises of pleasure and power for the sins we commit.
• Lastly, we must deal the flesh, i.e., our own passions and willfulness that often lead us to do what we know is wrong. The difficulty of the flesh is that our passions can be strong, and it is very easy to develop sinful habits and addictions that can be hard to break.
• Just as the virtues grow into good habits through repeatedly using our will to act virtuously, so too do the vices grow into bad habits whenever we repeatedly commit a sin. Sadly, many people today are absolutely enslaved by their sinful habits.
• Those who are enslaved by sin often believe that they can never be free of their sins. This is exactly what the devil wants us to believe. He wants us to believe we can never be free of our sinful habits so that we despair and ultimately turn away from God.
• This, too, is one of his lies. For even a man with the most vicious of addictions never fully loses the ability to exercise his will. While our capacity to exercise our wills for the good may be mitigated by our habits, we always retain some capacity to choose rightly.
• And in the spiritual battle we must all wage for our souls against the world, the flesh, and the devil, our Catholic faith gives us many powerful weapons. Of course first and foremost are the sacraments, most especially Holy Communion and confession.
• Frequent recourse to these two sacraments forgives our sins, strengthens us in virtue, and gives us the courage to say no to temptations.
• The practices of prayer, fasting, and alms giving, as well as meditating on Sacred Scripture and the faithful use of the Church’s sacramentals also greatly aid us.
• We must also have recourse to the angels and saints, most especially Our Lady, for as the Virgin Most Powerful, she has the ability to crush the head of the devil, and as the Help of Christians, she gently helps to form us in virtue and strengthen us against sin.
• Lastly, simply asking God to help you love Him more than you love your sins during those moments of temptation often procures for us the grace we need to avoid sin.
• My brothers and sisters, while our fallen human nature often makes it difficult for us to win every battle against sin and temptation, by God’s grace we can win the war for our souls. We must never lose heart, even if our sins are great, for God’s grace is sufficient!
• So let us entrust ourselves to aid of Our Lady, who never fails to show her children the path to Heaven. With her help may our wills be strengthened to do what is right so that we may all be saints some day!

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

Link to Homilies:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: