Personal freedom and morality

Within the format of the Liturgy of the Word, as has become customary for general audiences during this Holy Year of the Redemption, Pope John Paul II offered the following reflections to the crowds gathered in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, 20 July.

l. "We are... his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance" (Eph 2:10).

Our redemption in Christ—this great mystery that we are celebrating in an extraordinary way during this Holy Year—enables us to do, in the fulness of love, those good deeds "which God prepared for us in advance". The goodness of our acts is the fruit of the Redemption. Saint Paul therefore teaches that, by virtue of the fact that we have been redeemed, we have become "slaves of justice" (Rom 6:18). To be "slaves of justice" is our true freedom.

Goodness of our acts

2. In what does the goodness of human acting consist? If we pay attention to our daily experience, we see that among the various activities in which our person is expressed, some happen in us but are not fully ours, while others not only happen in us but are fully ours. These are the activities that are born of our freedom: acts of which each one of us is the author in the true and proper sense of the term. They are, in a word, free acts. When the Apostle teaches us that we are the handiwork of God, "created in Christ Jesus for good deeds", these good deeds are the acts which the human person, with God's help, does freely: goodness is a quality of our free acting, that is, that acting of which the person is the principle and the cause, and for which he is therefore responsible.

Through his free acting, the human person expresses himself and at the same time fulfils himself. The Church's faith, based on divine revelation, teaches us that each one of us will be judged according to his deeds. Note: it is our person that will be judged on the basis of our deeds. It is understood from this that in our deeds it is the person who is expressed, who is fulfilled, and, so to speak, is formed. Each one is responsible not only for his free actions, but through these actions he becomes responsible for himself.

The act and the person

In the light of this profound relationship between the person and his free acting we can understand what makes up the goodness of our acts, that is, the acts which are those good deeds "which God prepared for us in advance". The human person is not the absolute master of himself. He is created by God. His being is a gift: what he is, and his very being here are a gift of God. "We are truly his handiwork", the Apostle teaches us, "created in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:10). Continually receiving himself from the creating hands of God, man is responsible before him for all he does. When the act freely performed is in keeping with the person's being, it is good. It is necessary to emphasize this fundamental relationship between the act done by the person and the person who does it.

The human person is gifted with a truth of his own, with an intrinsic order of his own, with a make-up of his own. When his deeds are in harmony with this order, with the make-up proper to a human person created by God, they are good deeds "which God prepared for us in advance". The goodness of our acting springs from a deep harmony between the person and his acts, while on the contrary, moral evil signals a break, a profound division between the person who is acting and his actions. The order inscribed in his being, that order which is his proper good, is no longer respected in and by his actions. The human person is no longer in his truth. Moral evil is precisely the evil of the person as such; moral good is the good of the person as such.

Our sharing in the Redemption

4. We are celebrating this Holy Year of the Redemption in order to understand more deeply the mystery of our salvation, in order to share more deeply in the redemptive power of God's grace in Christ.

In the light of what we have said, we can understand why the fruit of the Redemption in us is precisely the good deeds "which God prepared for us in advance". The grace of the Redemption gives rise to an ethos of the Redemption.

Salvation truly renews the human person, who becomes created anew "in justice and in holiness". The grace of the Redemption restores to health and elevates the person's intellect and will, so that the person's freedom is enabled, by the same grace, to act with righteousness.

The human person is thus fully saved in his earthly life. Indeed, as I said before, it is in acting properly that the human person realizes the truth of his being, while, when he does not act properly, he does himself evil, destroying the order of his own being. The true and deepest alienation of man consists in the morally bad action: in this action, the person does not lose what he has, but he loses what he is, that is, he loses himself. "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, if he loses himself in the process?", the Lord tells us. The only true evil, entirely evil, for the human person is moral evil.

The Redemption re-creates us "in justice and in holiness" and enables us to act consistently with this state of justice and holiness of ours. It restores man to himself, makes him return from the land of his exile to his homeland: to his truth, to his freedom as a creature of God. And the sign, the fruit of this return, is good deeds.

L'Osservatore Romano July 25, 1983
Reprinted with permission