(Editor’s note: This column by Father Jake Greiner was addressed to readers of the Knoxville Journal Express.)
Human freedom, within a Christian context, is not to be understood as the ability to choose whatever a person may desire at any moment: “I can do what I want, when I want, with who I want, and for as long as I want.” The latter would simply mean that a person is a slave to the most imminent want or desire in his or her life. A Christian understanding of human freedom is focused solely on developing a person’s ability to make choices in order to love God and our neighbors. Therefore, true human freedom is exercised when a person chooses to serve God and neighbor over any number of alternatives. Furthermore, a person becomes freer through every action directed toward God and neighbor. If we wanted to identify an exemplar of human freedom, we would simply look to Jesus Christ who chose to became human and die for the salvation of the world.
The exercise of human freedom enables a person to truly discover their God-given vocation. By an authentic exercise of human freedom, every man and woman will come to know what God desires for his or her life. This process begins in childhood and continues throughout our lives. This is why families, mentors and friends are extremely important to our personal growth in human freedom.
What happens when we become adults in the faith and have to practice our freedom more autonomously? Reflecting on my own experience, I entered the seminary because I believed that I was possibly being called by God to serve as a priest. The use of my human freedom led me to this decision. Through personal prayer, spiritual direction, guidance from family and friends, and growth in self-knowledge, I was finally able to acknowledge and accept that I was possibly being called to the priesthood. I was far from perfect and I had my fair share of personal struggles when I entered the seminary. However, I could honestly say that I felt free enough to begin the process of formation. This is what God wanted for my life.
When I was accepted into seminary, I would soon learn that my freedom, my choice to grow and mature in response to truth and goodness, needed to be exercised even more. I was being tested and tried by my intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral formation to develop my personal freedom even more, so I could truly become the man that God was calling me to become. This process of growth in human freedom continues in my life as a priest.
Every morning when I wake up I am faced by many decisions that will either help me grow in human freedom or become a slave to my selfish desires. Whether we are single, married, young or old, this same fundamental choice is placed before each of us. Therefore, I pray every day that I might choose God over anything else. Even when I fail through sinful actions, these are opportunities to realize where I am still not free, and these are the areas where I need to work in order to grow in my vocation. I pray that all of us will more fully commit to developing human freedom in our lives by allowing ourselves to realize, through the help of grace, where we are slaves to sin in our lives.
(Fr. Greiner is administrator of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)