On the Fourth, Remember Our Moral Freedoms, Too

We need God's love to guide us toward the hard right over the easy left — to do right by others and ourselves

“If it feels good, do it.” Why? Does that always lead to happiness?

St. John Paul II, in his 1995 homily in Baltimore, Maryland, reminded us of the essential link between freedom and truth and the potential impact it can have on those around us: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

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“When freedom shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and universal truth, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion or, indeed, his selfish interest and whim,” the pope also said in that homily.

In the early 1980s, I had the interesting experience of being a member of a fraternity at Michigan State University. Marijuana was frequently passed around the room, kegs were flowing freely from Thursday through Saturday, other interesting pharmaceuticals were making the rounds at various parties, and members of different sorority houses were invited over on a regular basis. These kids were generally going with their feelings and doing it all.

One young man in particular was really living it up, and I remember asking him what it was like to have relations with so many different girls every weekend. He looked at me with sad eyes, and said, “In the beginning it was amazing, but now it’s like I’m addicted. I need to have sex and I really don’t enjoy it anymore.”

Thanks to my involvement with the Regnum Christi movement and regular spiritual direction from Fr. Lorenzo Gomez, a Legionary of Christ, I was able to find the moral fortitude to resist the vices of so many of my peers. But like any normal college kid, I felt the full force of my emotions and passions, and it was a challenge.

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Although I certainly had the freedom to choose the immoral path, I knew the short-term pain of discipline would far outweigh the long-term pain of regret. And I noticed the brief moments of pleasure produced an awful lot of sadness and disarray in the hearts and minds of those who went the other way.

Related: We’ve Got to Return to Biblical Foundations in This Country

A lot of damage can be done in just seconds. Too many marriages and families have blown up because of unwise and split-second decisions. Two or three extra glasses of wine at a party can make someone decide to respond to an email too quickly — or to cut ethical corners on a business deal.

Freedom to choose carries with it a huge responsibility, and the choices made often have a huge effect on others, particularly on those we most love and who love us the most. The problem lies not in knowing right from wrong; our conscience usually makes that crystal clear. The challenge is having the fortitude to choose the morally sound path and not justify sinful behavior. We need God’s grace to clear the fog and choose the hard right over the easy left — and we need His gentle hand to show us and guide us along the path of true freedom.

Related: Eight Bible Verses to Read This Independence Day

President Ronald Reagan reminded us on his July 4 speech in 1981: “Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people.”

Government should always respect our God-given freedom, and we are truly blessed to have the freedom to choose in this country. Don’t merely consult “feelings” when faced with a challenging moral decision. Instead, consult your faith and your conscience. Use your freedom for good, use it to choose good — choose truth, and the “truth will set you free.”

Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.

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