This very famous bible passage, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free “(John 8: 32), is the subject of today’s Gospel reading. What is Jesus trying to say to us? Didn’t He give us free will, which automatically makes us free? Why then, would we need to know the truth to be free?
We need to read a few more verses to get the full gist of Jesus’ message. In John 8:34, Jesus states, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” When we sin, we give up our freedom and become enslaved to the sin. We diminish our relationship with God. We reject God’s grace.
This begs us to ask then, what is freedom and free will? Apparently, it does NOT mean what we thought it meant: to do whatever we please. It can’t mean that, because if it pleases us to sin, then we become slaves to sin and lose our freedom. So, what does real freedom and free will look like? “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility.”1 Whereas, “free will is the freedom to do what one ought.” 2
Truth and Freedom
Saint Pope John Paul II takes it one step further by drawing the essential link between truth and freedom:
…freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the truth. 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. 3
Understanding Objective and Universal Truth
For us to truly experience our freedom, we must know objective and universal truth – those facts which cannot be denied or misinterpreted. For without that foundation of knowledge, we cannot do what is right and pleasing to God. We cannot be free. Each one of us DOES know objective and universal truth, because God infused it into us at birth. It is the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. We call it Natural Law. We apply Natural Law by using our consciences. When we listen to our consciences and act rightly, we exercise our freedom. When we ignore our consciences and sin, we forego our freedom and become slaves to sin.
Therefore, when Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free “(John 8: 32), He meant that we know what is right and what is wrong. If we act on what is right, then the truth shall set us free!
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Print. 1997, n. 1731
2 Armenio, Peter V. Our Moral Life in Christ: College Ed, Woodridge: Midwest Theological Forum, Print. 2009, p. 77
3 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae: On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life, 25 Mar. 1995, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, Print, 1995. n. 19.