Recently I heard my priest's sermon preparing the congregation for Lent and was struck by its message. He got me thinking.
Giving up candy, meat on Fridays, or perhaps snacks in between meals are examples of things we Catholics might do during Lent. Or, if you prefer to "do" something rather than abstain from something, you could attend daily Mass, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or pray the rosary once a day. Although the Catholic Church doesn't force us to do any of it, it certainly suggests that some sacrifices be made during Lent as a preparation for Easter. The hope is that in doing so, we become better human beings and more Christ like.
This brings me back to Father Joe's sermon on Ash Wednesday. He stressed that by asking us to do penance, fast, abstain from meat, or do works of charity, the Church is not trying to take away our "freedom." Instead, the Church is trying to help us attain freedom. Whoa....that line certainly caught my attention! How does fasting, abstaining, and doing charitable works make me more free?
Simple. Let's use me as an example. One of my weaknesses (I'm only sharing ONE of them) is food which I enjoy way too much. My helpings are too big and there are some foods which, once I start eating, I can't seem to stop. Yes, Lays potato chips is one of those foods in case you were wondering. I also tend to snack....a little in the afternoon before dinner and sometimes before bed time. I can't seem to stick with any diet, including counting calories. You know that saying, "You should eat to live, but not live to eat?" Well, I ALMOST live to eat. The only reason I'm not as big as a house is because I exercise. I run two miles every other day and sometimes walk in between. With that said, I have 20 pounds that I should lose.
In a way, you could say that food controls me. Not only do I look forward to eating, it makes me feel happy when I eat. To me, a party isn't a party unless there is food. When I go out to eat, I prefer places that serve big portions and not the restaurants where you can hardly see the food on the plate. In a way, I am a slave to my eating habits and to the food itself. As long as food or any weakness I have controls me, even just slightly, I am not truly free. I can say that I am and even pretend that freedom has nothing to do with my voracious appetite, but I'm only lying to myself. We all know that drug addicts are addicted to their drugs which means they "need" the drug in order to feel good or even function without pain. You could even say that drug addicts are enslaved by their addictions since they are dependent on it. Drug addicts don't have the "freedom" to choose whether they're going to take drugs or not. Once hooked, they are now slaves to the tyrannical rules of the drug.
Even though most of us aren't drug users, most would admit that there are activities, consumptions, and routines that tend to "rule" us to a certain degree. Knowingly or not, we have allowed some of these things to control us. We are therefore "enslaved" in various degrees to the things we do or perhaps the foods we eat. They've become habitual. By "giving up" or by "abstaining" from these activities, foods, or "loves" for Lent, we are making sacrifices which help us build character. We are also gaining back the "freedom" we lose every time we do something which goes against our will....like over eating.
For Lent, among other things, I gave up snacking in between meals. I did it to lose some of my excess fat. I also did it to strengthen my resolve and my ability to control my life instead of allowing things such as food "control" me. I'm not going to tell you it's been easy. Right now, I would love to munch and crunch on some Gold pretzels. I can practically hear them calling me from the top of the refrigerator. I am resisting the temptation and in doing so, am taking control of my desires and appetites rather than giving in like I normally would.
With each day that I succeed in abstaining from snacks, I am becoming more free from the impulses and urges that blindly rule at times. With discipline comes freedom, the freedom to choose rather than succumb to every whim and whirl that come my way. Perhaps, if I can learn to control my eating by changing my habits, I'll be able to gain control over other areas in my life. For right now, I'm simply taking baby steps towards that elusive idea we call, "freedom."