Freedom is something magnificent, yet it can also be dissipated and lost. Moral education has to do with cultivating freedom through ideas, incentives, practical applications, stimuli, rewards, examples, models, symbols, reflections, encouragement, dialogue and a constant rethinking of our way of doing things; all these can help develop those stable interior principles that lead us spontaneously to do good. Virtue is a conviction that has become a steadfast inner principle of operation. The virtuous life thus builds, strengthens and shapes freedom, lest we become slaves of dehumanizing and antisocial inclinations. For human dignity itself demands that each of us 'act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within'293 (Pope Francis, 2016 Amoris Laetitia ). In talking about moral decision making it is important to clarify what is meant by freedom. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that 'freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in humanity' (Gaudium et Spes, 17). Our freedom to make choices about moral issues is part of what makes us like God. Moreover, God wants us to make these choices, embrace our moral responsibility and grow and mature in moral wisdom. By acting in this way we are able to live whole-heartedly. In the light of the above it is helpful to note with O'Neil and Black (2003, p.58), that freedom can be understood in two senses: 'freedom from' and 'freedom for'. When we talk about freedom in the sense of 'freedom from', we are referring to freedom from limitations that prevent us from doing what we want. It is the limitless freedom that is often associated with individualistic cultures and the belief that individuals have a right to whatever they want. More positively, however, this 'freedom from' can be understood as freedom from those limitations that prevent us from fulfilling our vocation to live whole-heartedly. For example, if you lived in a society in which you were persecuted for your race or your sex or your religious beliefs, this would limit your freedom. But there is also a richer aspect of freedom in what is termed 'freedom for'. This is not simply about being free to choose to do whatever we like. Rather, it is about being able to make choices that might seem like limits on our freedom in order to direct our lives to what is truly good, towards a destiny centred on God. Think about how a person might choose not to eat ice-cream (and ice-cream is good because it tastes good and makes you feel happy in the short-term) because that person is trying to lose a few kilos so that she can be fitter and healthier. Or the person who pushes through the exhaustion of a physical exercise routine (the rest would be a good thing in the short term because it would provide immediate satisfaction) so that she will be able to perform better at her sport and be able to represent her country.
Now, when we talk about what is truly good and what 'freedom for' means in the Catholic sense, we are referring to the freedom to choose to direct one's actions towards the fostering of one's relationship with God and towards the flourishing of the community as a whole. This outwardly focused, altruistic understanding of freedom does not preclude one's own flourishing. Rather, it affirms that as beings made in the image of God, and hence as social and relational creatures, human beings flourish with others. Our flourishing is intimately tied up with the flourishing of others. When we use our freedom in this way, we respect not only the dignity of all human beings, but come closer to realizing the kind of just, peaceful and joyful community that God wants for humanity. What is truly good, in Catholic terms, is that which God wills. How do we know what God wills? Through revelation and through the use of our human reason to understand the order of the universe the way God has made it so that we can cooperate with God in making judgements and choices. Using these two sources of revelation and reason, we have already seen how we can affirm the good of every human being, their human dignity. We have seen how we can affirm the good of the body and the positive value of human sexuality expressed through procreation and conjugal love. We have seen how we can affirm the good of love, of intimacy, of being free of shame and of living whole-heartedly in a community of love, peace and justice with others. Thus, when it comes to moral reasoning about human sexuality and relationships, being able to answer basic questions about what is truly good means that our consciences are already well-informed about the starting point of our moral reflection. We come to understand such questions have answers both on the authority of God and the evidence of our own critical thought, reflection and feelings. What is said above constitutes the focus for what we should ultimately wish to achieve in all our moral decisions and use our freedom to work towards through our moral-decision making. What is discussed here provides a framework for helping us to think through what the right thing to do is in any given moral situation, especially in the context of human sexuality and relationships.