WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Everywhere you look you see the word "Freedom" being used these days. Sadly, it has provided cover for some who offer lifestyle choices as the path to liberation when thay lead to bondage and misery. The question we must ask is what does freedom really mean? Do our choices really matter? Are there some choices which will not lead us to freedom - or to human flourishing and happiness - but actually take away both?

I offer some insights from the writing and teaching of two of the great teachers of freedom in this age, Blessed John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI.  In his letter titled the Redeemer of Man, Blessed John Paul wrote these words:

"Since man's true freedom is not found in everything that the various systems and individuals see and propagate as freedom, the Church, because of her divine mission, becomes all the more the guardian of this freedom, which is the condition and basis for the human person's true dignity. Jesus Christ meets the man of every age, including our own, with the same words:

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." These words contain both a fundamental requirement and a warning: the requirement of an honest relationship with regard to truth as a condition for authentic freedom, and the warning to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world."  (Redemptor Hominis #12)

One of the themes of Blessed John Paul's Pontificate was that only a true and authentic definition of human freedom will be able to guide individuals, communities, Nations and the international community to obtaining authentic liberation. Blessed John Paul II was a freedom fighter. Whether it was in his unashamed opposition to State tyrannies - of the politically left and politically right variety - or his insistence upon the existence of absolute moral truths which must guide human behavior, he proclaimed that the struggle for freedom is the pivotal struggle of our age.

Pope Benedict XVI continues to proclaim the same message. On April 18, 2005, in the homily preceding his selection as the Successor of Peter, he asked a probing question and shared a prophetic insight: "How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking?

"The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true".

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires".

"We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth. We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith - that creates unity and is fulfilled in love."

In May of 2005, when Pope Benedict XVI took possession of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, he explained the Petrine mission: "Peter expressed in the first place, on behalf of the apostles, the profession of faith: 'You are the Christ, the son of the living God.' This is the task of all the Successors of Peter -- to be the guide in the profession of faith in Christ, the son of the living God.

"This teaching authority frightens many men within and outside the Church. They wonder if it is not a threat to the freedom of conscience, if it is not a presumption that is opposed to freedom of thought. It is not so..The power conferred by Christ to Peter and his Successors is, in the absolute sense, a mandate to serve."

The Catholic Church points the way to authentic human freedom in a world deluded by a multitude of

counterfeits and competing claims. It offers authoritative teaching concerning the existence of truths in an age which insists there are no truths. Oh, I know, such a claim is not politically correct. We have a bevy of people in every area of the current culture who argue that the Catholic Church is the greatest obstacle to freedom. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She holds the keys to freedoms promise.

According to Pope Benedict, freedom was Blessed John Paul II's mission, "when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life, from its conception until natural death." Now it has become Benedict's mission as well - and he needs our help. Catholics are the champions of freedom in an age rushing toward a new slavery. 

The work of exposing the "erroneous interpretations of freedom" and proclaiming the full truth concerning its constitutive nature is integral to the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. In one of his seminal works entitled "Introduction to Christianity" wrote,

"One could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom." And, so it is. Philosophy deals with existential questions such as what is freedom and how it is to be exercised. This neo-pagan age has become intoxicated on the wine of a false notion of freedom as a power over others who are weaker and the "right" to do whatever one wills. 

In the same homily, the Pope uttered these profound words "The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery." While calling doing what is wrong a "right," contemporary men and women are bound in the chains of self delusion, atheistic materialism and nihilism. The new slavery of this age treats persons as property to be used rather than gifts to be received.

The task we all have as catholics is to proclaim a different way, the "more excellent way" that St Paul writes of in his letter to the Corinthians, the way of love. (I Cor. 12 and 13) That is the only way to authentic human freedom. The Catholic Church is, a "guardian of freedom" because she continues the redemptive mission of Jesus within the context of the hour. It is Jesus Christ who eternally proclaims that all men and women can "know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)

To an age enamored with any kind of "choice" the Catholic Church rightly insists that some "choices" are always and everywhere wrong. She teaches that what is chosen not only affects the world - but changes the "chooser."  Saint Gregory of Nyssa once reflected on our capacity to choose in these words, "Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew - but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions." Freedom has consequences.

The capacity to make choices is what makes us human persons, reflecting the Image of God. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, "Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man." (Gaudium et Spes, "Joy and Hope," 17). However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the proper exercise human freedom when it reminds us that "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (CCC, 1861) In other words, what we choose truly matters.

Authentic Human Freedom cannot be realized in decisions made against God and against the Natural Law. Authentic freedom has a moral constitution. It must be exercised in reference to the truth concerning the human person, the family, our obligations in solidarity to one another and the common good. That is why the fullness of authentic human freedom is ultimately found in a relationship with the God who is its source and who alone can set us free to choose rightly.

In his encyclical letter on Faith and Reason, John Paul wrote: "It is not just that freedom is part of the act of faith: it is absolutely required. Indeed, it is faith that allows individuals to give consummate expression to their own freedom. Put differently, freedom is not realized in decisions made against God. For how could it be an exercise of true freedom to refuse to be open to the very reality which enables our self-realization? Men and women can accomplish no more important act in their lives than the act of faith; it is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth." (Fides et Ratio, Faith and Reason # 13)

Choosing what is good is the pathway to authentic human freedom. The Catholic Catechism instructs "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (Cf. Rom 6:17) (CCC 1733)

Accompanying the counterfeit claims of "freedom" in our day is a disdain for a Catholic Church. That is precisely because she insists on the existence of moral absolutes and right and wrong. Again, the Catechism instructs,

"So-called moral permissiveness rests on an erroneous conception of human freedom; the necessary precondition for the development of true freedom is to let oneself be educated in the moral law. Those in charge of education can reasonably be expected to give young people instruction respectful of the truth, the qualities of the heart, and the moral and spiritual dignity of man." (CCC 2526)

As sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, we need to live the truth in this age of falsehood masquerading as truth and be willing to enter into the struggle. We need to fervently pray for Pope Benedict and all who lead our Church. The growing opposition to the Catholic Church is rooted precisely in her important mission of being the "Guardian of Freedom" in an age racing headlong into a new form of slavery.