Rev José Mario O Mandía
We have affirmed that man has the power to make informed and intelligent choices – that he is free. St Thomas teaches us, however, that there is one thing in life which we are not free to choose or to reject, something that we necessarily long for. What is that thing? Happiness.
St Thomas writes: “… of necessity, every man desires happiness…. to desire happiness is nothing else than to desire that one’s will be satisfied. And this everyone desires” (cf Summa Theologiae, part I-II, question 5, article 8).
We have seen that freedom springs from our reasoning and our will. What does reason seek? The truth (no one wants to be told lies). What does our will look for? The good. We are restless and anxious until we get to the truth and goodness. Only when we obtain truth and goodness do we attain happiness.
However, earthly truth and created goodness are limited, while our yearnings are not. Therefore, only something unlimited, only something infinite can quench our thirst for truth and goodness.
We have seen that God is infinite Truth and infinite Goodness. Thus, only He can fully satiate our deepest desires. Freedom is, therefore, most perfect when it leads us to God. St Augustine expressed this in his famous prayer in his Confessions (I, 1): “Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they rest in You!”
But why is it that not many people seem to be looking for God? The answer is that our intellect and our will were wounded (though not corrupted) by original sin. Sin clouds our intellect, it weakens our will. This leads to defective choices.
“As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning” (CCC, 1732).
“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” (CCC, 1739). Man misused his freedom.
This is why we require training in the use of freedom. We also need the aid of actual grace, the virtues, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
What does that training require? Formation of the intellect and the will. And how can actual grace, virtues, and the Holy Spirit help? Actual graces, human and supernatural virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit give light to our intellect and strength to our will: they enhance our freedom and make us capable of wise choices.
This is what the CCC (1734) means when it says, “Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.”
What is “ascesis”? Ascesis, or ascetical struggle, comes from the Greek word “askesis”, which refers to training for a sporting event. This is what St Paul is referring to (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) when he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an