The divine voice speaks in a language with the syntax and vocabulary of the Natural Law, a law mirroring the Eternal Law of God. The Natural Law is imprinted on each of us through our human nature. St. Paul speaks of, “The natural law, whereby each one knows, and is conscious of, what is good and what is evil.” (Romans 2:14).
St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes the First Principle of the Natural Law in this way: “Good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided.” (Summa Theologica) Of course, all we ever do is seek the good, right? With this Natural Law imprinted on our very being, and with St. Thomas’s first principle, it seems that anyone who thinks and then decides to pursue what is good will never pursue what is evil. How, then, could anyone ever choose evil, how could anyone choose to go to Hell?
St. Paul puts it this way, “For I do not understand what I do, for it is not what I wish that I do, but what I hate, that I do . . .For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15,19).
St. Paul was perplexed. In theory, choosing to go to Hell simply does not make sense, unless of course one has ever committed a sin. If so, the paradox of St. Paul’s words make perfectly good (no pun intended) sense. For a variety of reasons, when we say, “I see that evil that I want now as good,” we in effect say, “I want to go to Hell.” We say, “I want Hell, Lord, not You.”
We pursue false goods, false gods, sometimes recklessly, sometimes with passion, sometimes with full intent, sometimes with vehemence, but always knowing the truth, knowing that a chosen evil is not really good. The power of our own wants, the power we unleash on ourselves of wanting something that is evil, drowns out the voice of conscience.
Why doesn’t the all-powerful God who made us and loves us infinitely turn up the volume on the voice of conscience and stop us when we want to choose evil? He could surround us with a force field of good which evil could not penetrate. It is precisely because He made us out of love and made each of us so unique and beautiful, with intellect and free will, that He will not force any choice on us. He will say to us “I love you, however because I have made you free, truly free, not My will, but yours be done.”
In choosing evil a choice has been made, implicitly, to go to Hell. How does one change this non-stop ticket down to an express, one-way ticket up? St. Paul asks: “Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) The answer is simple, complete, and profound. “The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:19)
This answer, God’s grace, is ours every time we receive absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation. Each Mass we attend is a microcosm of realizing we haves chosen wrongly, and then repenting, seeking and being gifted with God’s grace, and glorying in His Son’s salvation. This is a summary of each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we offer to God:
I have chosen Hell.
I did not choose You, I chose me.
I have sinned (greatly) and I am sorry.
I want to glorify You, Father, and I believe in You.
I cannot do this alone and I offer to You your Son.
He loves me.
Here again is His passion and death, for me.
Please accept Him and let me tag along with Him.
Thy will be done, not mine.
As I receive Him, body, blood, soul, divinity, please, I beg, I beseech you, receive me.
I choose You.
I choose Heaven.
The New Year is here and in the Epiphany the new-born King is manifest to us. Heaven has come to Earth and the baby Jesus, has said “I choose you.” What better time to give Him this gift – to choose good, to choose Him?