Choice. I am a fan of Servais Pinckaers, a Belgian Dominican priest who was a significant moral theologian of the last century. Pinckaers helped to identify the ways in which humans can understand choice. On the one hand, there is that choice which can be limited to this or that, a choice between two things. This is what we might call today license, and what Pinckaers called a freedom from. When freedom is understood as license, then anything that in any way restricts our choices is bad. Often when a teen complains to parents, “Don’t tell me what to do” they say this because they do not like having their license to do whatever they please taken away.
The other type of freedom is what Pinckaers described as a freedom for. In other words, choices are made not because it is something I want to do and you cannot stop me, but rather because I want to become someone. In this understanding, I choose to tell the truth even when it is hard to do so because I want to be honest. I choose to stop eating chocolate covered cherries by the boxful because I want to be healthy. I exercise even when I feel like sitting on the couch because I want to be fit.
It is in this sense that we can understand the choice of the first reading. “Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.” When we first hear that question, we might ask ourselves who would possibly choose doom? Who would possibly choose death? And we would be right to wonder those things. And yet, anyone who has seen a person suffer from an addiction knows that death and doom can be chosen. Anyone who has watched someone seek to acquire an endless amount of money or material possessions, and to then be worried about it being taken away, so much so they never give it to anyone, knows how the death and doom that is greed can be chosen.
Death and doom are chosen when people only focus on doing whatever they want, not on what they can become. Death and doom are chosen because “no one can tell me what to do.” Life is chosen when we decide to become that person God has created us to be.