Is there free will in Heaven?

Is there free will in Heaven?

“Do people in Heaven still have free will?”

Our conversation started with evolution and gradually meandered to angels, free will, and humanity.  I told them that angels had free will and they asked if angels could still rebel.  Explaining that angels will their decision to follow or not follow God with their entire beings, they then asked if people in Heaven could sin.  When I said they wouldn’t, they wondered how free will could be found in a place where there was no sin.

“It seems like free will would just be an illusion,” they said, when I told them that in Heaven we would be purified and would always choose to follow God, even while exercising our free will.

I needed to make a correlation that they would understand.  One student compared it to pizza.  If he said he would eat pizza for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t be free to eat anything other than pizza.  That wasn’t quite the comparison I was looking for in order to explain the situation to them.

I’m not always very quick on my feet.  Sometimes, I want to beg them for more time and to consider than I am a slow thinker, a muller of thoughts and ideas.  Instead, I tried to think of something tangible that they could understand.  How could one make a particular choice that was forever and yet still exercise their free will?

Now that I consider it, I could have referenced Jesus or Mary.  Instead, I used vocations.

“Priests, religious, and married persons make vows that they intend to follow forever and yet they freely choose to will those decisions daily.  Our free will in Heaven is kind of like that, but we are able to perfectly will it always.”

A couple committed to marriage make vows to love the other in a free, total, faithful, and fruitful way.  They still have a free will, but they have publicly voiced their desire to always will the good of the other.  This doesn’t make them less free.  Instead, their commitment allows them to experience the freedom of total gift of self to another.  Yes, they could choose to cheat or leave or lie.  But if they follow the vows, they will freely choose to not do those things. Continue reading “Is there free will in Heaven?”

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Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong

I have a problem with weakness.  When a person’s weakness is on display in a way I don’t like, I find it difficult to be welcoming and open.  Yet I also am convinced that being honest and sharing your heart is a necessary part of living an authentic Christian life.  I understand that seeming as though I always have it together is detrimental to myself and others.  However, seeing weakness in a way other than what I believe is an acceptable display is hard for me to embrace.

This realization–my understanding of vulnerability and yet my dislike of apparent weakness–makes me pause and wonder what is in this little heart of mine.  Sometimes, I see weakness and I am drawn to the person.  In a way, I suppose my heart responds like the Lord’s heart–the misery of another makes me desire to love them in the midst of the struggle.  However, sometimes, I see weakness and I am repelled by it.  I question why they struggle in that particular way or in such a public manner.  Instead of feeling compelled to reach out to them and help them, I withdraw and wish they could get their act together.

Like I have said before, this heart of mine is far, far away from being a perfect heart.

I think a theme that has been woven into several of my posts is one of brokenness and seeking the Lord in the midst of that break.  Yet I also want to have it together and I want other people to be composed.  The other day at Mass, I found myself asking my heart a question, “How is it that you want people to share their brokenness and yet you don’t want to see weakness?  Is there an appropriate way to be broken?”

Is it fair to criticize people for the way they fall apart?  For the way they fail and are weak?  I like when people talk about their humanity, but I’m less interested in actually seeing their humanity.  It is silly, but I find myself arguing that I think there is a proper way to be broken.  A recent experience in prayer highlights the freedom that can be found in being broken and revealing that brokenness.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has a book called An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises.  The opening meditation uses the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in Mark 10.  In the opening lines of the meditation, I was directed to take my seat with Bartimaeus.  Soon, this blind man is calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In prayer, I was surprised to find an annoyance with him.  He was obnoxiously calling out to Jesus and I resisted the urge to shush him.  How could he be so shameless?  In the midst of the crowd, he was crying out, causing people to acknowledge his blindness and his complete inability to change his situation.  I wanted Bartimaeus to be more discreet and not draw so much attention to himself.  However, to Bartimaeus, his helplessness was paradoxically a place of hope. Continue reading “Let the Weak Say: I Am Strong”

Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden

“Honey, I love you, really, I do.  But being married to you is a burden.”

My students were asked to imagine that a husband came home and said this to his wife.  Already, there was a bit of disdain in their eyes for the husband.

“Oh, I am?  How am I so burdensome?”
“Well, I love you, but sometimes I want to do things and I can’t because of you.”
“Like what?”
“There are a lot of attractive and smart women I run into at work and I can’t date any of them.  Sometimes I want to just catch a plane and fly to Florida for a week, but I would have to tell you first and you might want to come.  You are interesting and wonderful and I love you, but sometimes marriage is restrictive.”

Each time I told this to my students, it worked.  They did not think highly of the husband and were, rightfully so, annoyed with his list of burdens.

Wow, they gasp, he is the worst.

But aren’t these things true?  I asked my students.  He isn’t allowed to date other women, is he?

No, they reply.

Shouldn’t he talk to his wife about flying off to Florida for a week before he does it?

Yes, they say.

So what is wrong about what he is saying?  Why shouldn’t he say these things when they are true?

After very little discussion, because it seems so obvious, they tell me that he has the wrong perspective.  He isn’t focusing on his relationship with his wife, but simply all the things he cannot do because of his relationship with her.

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI

You are correct, I tell them, the husband focuses only on the restrictions of this relationship instead of the love he has for her.

But isn’t this sometimes what we do with God? Continue reading “Honey, I love you, but being married to you is a burden”

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

Proclaim Liberty to the Captives

The Lord is a wound healer.  

I’ve been mentoring a young friend for a few months and the last time we met our conversation turned to wounds.  In many ways, I feel I have had a pretty easy life, one without too many struggles or problems.  Yet I am amazed by how many wounds can be found in this tender, little heart of mine.  As we spoke of how the Lord seeks to heal these areas, I couldn’t help but marvel at what the Lord has done in me over the years.

When Jesus heals, He brings freedom into a place I often didn’t even realize was enslaved.  This heart is far from wholeness, but the work the Lord has done in it is impressive.  My gifted spiritual director has spent hours listening to me sob and choke out stories of hurt and pain.  Some are understandable in their immensity, while others seem nearly laughable in their smallness.  Yet my spiritual director has treated each wound as important and in need of healing.  Often it is he who insists on the importance of the incident while I want to be dismissive of the emotions attached to the memory.

As a person who wants to be seen as logical and rational, it has taken years for me to be convinced of the validity of my feelings.  When I can accept that my feelings aren’t foolish, I am able to acknowledge that the hurt is real and needs to be addressed.  In this, the Lord has rewarded me ten-thousand fold.  Working through the intricacies of my heart has forced me to see that Christ wants to redeem and renew every part. Continue reading “Proclaim Liberty to the Captives”

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

As much as our world changes and the values and morals alter concurrently, sometimes it is good to see that embedded deep within us is a natural understanding of how we should respond.  Many health situations that create controversy and endless disagreements often start from a good intention that is found within us as human beings.  The push for assisted suicide generally comes from seeing someone suffering and acknowledging that things shouldn’t be that way.  Our desire to eliminate suffering in others is good, but we don’t always pursue the correct course of action.

What this tends to create in society is the belief that each individual should be able to do what they think is best.  As an individualistic society, we are quick to argue that nobody can force their beliefs and opinions on me.  I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes we will add the caveat “as long as I am not hurting anyone,” but often, culturally, we see our freedom as the one objective truth.  

Do you remember hearing roughly a month ago about a MLB umpire who saved a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente bridge in Pittsburgh?  I found the story a beautiful testament of someone caring about a stranger and doing something when others just walked by.  What I find particularly interesting about the story is how it was reported.  People came together to help a woman who was trying to jump off the bridge and commit suicide.  John Tumpane, the man who first started helping the woman, is spoken of as a hero and as someone who saved another person’s life.  These weren’t Christian news agencies, but this event was reported very similarly in several mainstream secular articles.

I agree that he was able to help save someone’s life, but I find the cultural inconsistency obvious.

This woman didn’t want to live.  She made a plan, she started to carry out that plan, and then she was stopped by someone walking by.  Most people will look at this as a positive ending to a story that could have been tragic.  We see someone wanting to end it all and we rejoice that someone noticed and she was able to hopefully receive the help she needed.

In a purely individualistic sense, what I see is a woman who was not allowed to make a choice she wanted to make.  She wanted to end her life, but other people decided that her life was worth living, worth saving.  To us, it is easy to see this as heroism in action.

Why do we as a culture not view this as an infringement on her rights?   Continue reading “Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?”

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You

Thankfully, I’m dying bit by bit.

I had a professor in college who liked to shock us by saying, “The Holy Spirit is trying to kill you.”  And, honestly, there is a lot in me that He needs to kill.

At the end of last week, I was frustrated with many of my students and tired of teaching.  One class seemed to be intensely critical of everything I was saying, perhaps a reaction from an impromptu assignment the day before.  Then a phone went off in class.  Finally, I asked students to take down papers I had them stick to the board and a few seemed to think it would be funny to tear them off, leaving them slightly crumpled.

It was all more than I wanted to deal with at the time.  And so I reacted.  I spoke a bit too harshly to the students who didn’t seem to care about the activity I had thrown together for them.  They were upset, but I was perhaps more upset.  One wanted to argue the matter and I told them to come back later if they wanted to discuss it.

I had a couple class periods to reflect on the situation.  My response, I soon realized, was not to that isolated situation but to the frustration of the entire day.  And I knew that wasn’t fair, but I couldn’t undo my unfair reaction.  So when one of the students stopped by after school, I was surprised, but glad.  We had a conversation and a few moments of it I could feel myself getting a little upset again.

In the end, part of me died.  I told the student I over-reacted and the punishment I threw out wasn’t fair.  While apologizing, I admitted that I hadn’t responded in the way that I should have responded.  “I agree with you: you don’t deserve a detention.  I’m sorry.” Continue reading “The Holy Spirit Wants to Kill You”

Attractive Misery

Attractive Misery

We feel…shame at seeing our misery and our baseness exposed.  Yet this misery possesses the mysterious privilege of attracting our Lord.  This is difficult to understand, yet it is an incontestable truth.  Our nothingness and our misery constitute the force that attracts our Lord.

(Secrets of the Interior Life)

I’ve never really understood this idea of how our misery attracts the Lord to us.  Generally, when I see my own miserableness, it is repulsive or something I want to hide.  It isn’t something that is attractive or pleasant.  When it comes to seeing the miserableness of others, I’m not much better.  My personality is one that desires perfection.  The people around me (including me) are continually letting me down because they don’t live up to my image of perfection.

Yet the Lord uses all things for good.  The cheating incident I mentioned a couple posts back has really pushed my heart.  It made me move from anger to forgiveness.  A few days later when the individuals came back and we spoke, I found great freedom in being able to express how they had hurt me and to hear them apologize.  The relief on their faces was incredible.  It was though they walked into my room carrying a burden and then through the exchange of a few words, that burden was lifted.  My burden was lifted, too.

Strangely, over the last couple weeks, I have found a special tenderness in my hearts toward those individuals.  No longer angry, I am able to love them as they are: flawed human beings.  The Lord knows I have difficulty loving people in their humanity and so I am beginning to be grateful for this incident.  I don’t want to love them only when I think they are perfect, but for the beautiful complexity that is wrapped up within their hearts and souls.  I know myself and so I know I do not want to be loved merely for my seeming perfection but rather in my entirety.  In the midst of this, I experienced for the first time, at least consciously, the way that misery attracts my heart.   Continue reading “Attractive Misery”

Choice

Choice

The sighs and groans were heard throughout the room.  It was a Thursday and so, like most Thursdays, we had a journal entry.  It was clear to me that this was not their favorite thing to do.  Then again, they are high schoolers, and so finding activities that they actually, visibly enjoy is a difficult task.

“I hear you,” I say as they begrudgingly pull out their notebooks.
“Five to six sentences?!  Really?  That is like a whole paragraph.”
“And you are seniors in high school.  You should be able to write an entire paragraph.”
“I don’t want to do this.  What if I just write two sentences?” one student asks.
“OK.”  I decide not to fight them on this one.
“You mean, I can just write two?”
“You won’t receive full points.  You can write two sentences or even no sentences.  I’m not going to spend my time trying to get you do your work.  It is your choice.”

In my profession of teaching, I have come to realize that I am very pro-choice.

My life as a high school teacher often involves reminding my students how many choices they actually have.  They view their lives as having very few choices, always being told what to do and where to be.  But, really, they have many, many choices.  It is simply that some of them seem less open-ended.  Many of their choices involve consequences that they really don’t want to face and so they think that means they don’t have a choice.

But the reality is that I can’t make them do anything.  I can strongly persuade them or make consequences they don’t want to face, but I cannot force them to do anything.

When I talk to my students about free will, I will applaud them for using their free will in a positive way at different points.  I thank them for choosing to be in class and sit in their seats.  After I say this, they suddenly look like they never realized another option existed.  Of course another option exists, I tell them.

“If you all got up right now and tried to leave the classroom, I couldn’t physically stop you all.”  They shift in their seats as though preparing to launch from them.
“We won’t get in trouble if we leave?”
“Of course you will.  But you have a choice.  And I am thankful that you are choosing to stay in the classroom and be in your seats.”

They always look a bit deflated at that point.  As though I offered them freedom and then took it away.  Yet, in all reality, they are still just as free.  They are choosing to stay in their seats.  This is largely a result of the unhappy consequences that would face them should they choose otherwise, but that doesn’t make it not a decision anymore.

The same is true with me.  Too often I view the things I do as not in the realm of my choice.  I don’t often sit down with a stack of papers and think, “I choose to grade these papers.”  During school, I find myself wanting to take a nap, but I choose to not take one.  On one hand, that is because I need to be teaching and the consequences of not doing my job doesn’t seem worth the little snooze.  Nevertheless, it is still a choice.

A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone about the morality of a specific action.  Once again I was struck by the width and breadth of the Church’s teaching.  People often view the Church as overly strict and filled with unnecessary rules.  Yet I see a Church that is abundant in choices.  So much is left up to each person to discern, with God’s grace.  How many children should I have?  Where should I live?  What job should I have?  What type of prayers should I pray?  Where should I go on vacation?  Which charity should I donate to?  The Church provides guidance and structure (as Christ promised the Church would), but there are so many aspects that are left up to personal choice.

And God is a huge proponent of choice.  He dearly wants us to choose to be with Him.  But He does not force it.  In the end, our choice determines where we spend eternity.  Our choice is made up of the little details and decisions in our daily lives, not simply in our voicing that we would like to be with God forever.  At times, choosing God may seem inconvenient or not what we would want to do in that moment.  It may be particularly difficult to choose to follow Him.  Yet despite all of these difficulties, it is still our choice.

This freedom of choice is why I have a classroom rule that if I catch someone copying another person’s paper with that person’s knowledge, both people get zeros.  It isn’t a popular rule, but I want them to acknowledge that the choice to cheat happens on both ends.  When it happened for the first time this semester a couple days ago, I had to remain firm in my decision.  Yes, it is unfortunate for the person who did all of their own work, but they still made the decision to allow someone else to copy their work.

Life is filled with many choices.  Some are between two morally neutral things: decaf or regular?  fries or onion rings?  carpet or hardwood flooring?  Others are between a good and a bad action: punching or not punching the co-worker?  stealing that top from the store or not stealing it?  embezzling the money or not?  And some choices seem like we loose no matter what: lie about the situation or accept responsibility and get in trouble?  cheat on the homework assignment or get a late grade for not having it done?  The beauty, however, is that God gives us the freedom to make our own decision.  Naturally, they will have consequences, as all decisions do, but it is our choice to make them.

Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.  (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Journey to the USA Homily 10/08/1995)

Not Burdensome

Not Burdensome

During 8th period yesterday, I found myself embroiled in an unexpected debate on modesty.  It was interesting, albeit slightly frustrating, to hear the girls present the woes of being asked to dress modestly.  And, to a degree, I would agree with them that the rules of dress tend to be more strictly enforced for women.  They argued about short shorts and the horror of needing to cover their shoulders.  Even in their discussions, they admitted that modesty was enforced differently by different teachers and that one rule didn’t always work the same for everyone.  The true problem, however, is one of feeling burdened. Continue reading “Not Burdensome”