BEFORE THE CROSS | In exercise of freedom, will we choose life, or death?

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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A skydiver leaps from a plane and speeds toward the ground. She can exercise her freedom in two ways: Pull the ripcord and open the parachute, or not. Either way it's her choice. But one choice leads to life and the other leads to death.

The same is true of the city of St. Louis declaring itself an abortion sanctuary and of states that are considering legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Like the skydiver, the primary question isn't whether they're free. The primary question is whether the choice leads to life or death.

The characters in the readings this week illuminate the issue quite nicely: the apostle Thomas, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot's wife, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, the people who brought the paralytic to Jesus and the scribes who witnessed his healing. The question isn't whether they're free. The question is how they use their freedom.

Thomas the apostle — whose feast day we celebrate July 3 — initially used his freedom to choose unbelief. Rather than being the first to believe, he became the icon of doubt. When Jesus confronted him he changed course: He confessed Jesus as Lord and God. Then, as we know from history, he used his freedom to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Will we be like him?

The people in the territory of the Gadarenes received a visit from Jesus, and witnessed a great miracle — the deliverance of two men possessed by demons. How did they respond? They used their freedom to drive Jesus away! Will we be like them?

Like the characters in the readings, the primary question for Americans this week is not whether we're free to choose. The history of our nation, the history of our laws and the history of consumer culture have worked to give us an unprecedented number of choices. We can be grateful for the many who have sacrificed for our freedom. It's a great blessing. Not everyone has it. We shouldn't take it for granted. But now we face a deeper question: How will we use our freedom? Will we use it to choose life, or to choose death?

We could talk about some of the great national issues, but instead let's look at our own lives.

• It's Sunday morning. Will we make Mass a priority, or something else — how will we use our freedom?

• We're at work. Will we obey the Ten Commandments, or make exceptions for ourselves — how will we use our freedom?

• We're in a conversation with a friend or neighbor. Will we defend the Church's teaching or not — how will we use our freedom?

As we celebrate our freedom this week, I don't think the primary question for us is whether we have freedom of choice. If America is going to be a great symbol of freedom, Americans need to answer a deeper question: When we exercise our freedom, are we choosing life or are we choosing death? 

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