Slavery is a very powerful word, no one wants to be a slave, but many unknowingly are. According to Websters, Slavery is “submission to a dominating influence”. Many people associate the term slavery with the Israelites in Egypt, or with African-Americans in the Southern United States. While the evil of forced labor and captivity are fairly easy to understand, there is a much more common form of slavery in our society today.
Our culture is dominated by hedonism, which is the pursuit of or devotion to pleasure. I was speaking to a friend’s daughter recently and we were talking about drinking soda. She remarked that she couldn’t live without drinking a soda at least every couple of days. I thought she might be exaggerating, but as we discussed her statement it became apparent that she was serious and honestly did not think she could survive without drinking soda on a regular basis. Over the course of my own life there have been many things to which I have been a slave: television, the Internet, desserts, and the praise of others. At the time, I didn’t consider myself to be a slave, I thought that freedom meant that I should be able to choose to indulge in any of these things whenever I wanted. The problem is that I couldn’t say no when presented with an opportunity to indulge.
What Good is Your Yes, if You Can’t Say No
How much freedom do you really have in your life? My kids hear this phrase quite often, “Are you a slave?”. I will pose this question to my kids this when they are watching TV or playing a video game or reading a book. Watching TV, playing a video game, reading a book, drinking sodas or eating good food is not inherently sinful, but if you can’t forgo it for a time, then maybe you love it too much.
The seasons of Advent and Lent are times of preparation for the coming of the Lord, a time when we reassert ourselves as masters over our passions and our things. We choose to give up bad and perhaps even good things to discipline ourselves and train our intellect to be in control of our will. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” It is evident that St. Paul struggled to control his passions, and maybe this is why he give the following advice to the Corinthians, “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” He had to work to achieve his goal of union with God. He understood well the dangers of passions left unchecked and being a slave to his desires.
Training for Eternity
St. Paul’s analogy of the athlete training for his sport is a great model to follow in the spiritual life. In every sport there are drills that you do to prepare you to perform a specific function. The drills are a little silly and even exaggerate the desired move, but through faithfully doing the drills day in and day out, you gradually train your body to be very adept at the sport. Baseball players swing a bat with a weight on it so that when they swing it without the weight they will be able to do so with great ease. Swimmers do kick and pull drills and then when swimming one of the four competition strokes they put the two skills perfected in the drill together and they can swim easier and hopefully faster. An athlete does not achieve his goal by sitting around thinking about his sport, he spends hours and hours training.
So what do we do to prepare for eternity? What type of spiritual training can we do? The saints and the scriptures give us much advice. At a minimum we must frequent the sacraments of the Church often, observe the Ten Commandments, and strive to live out the Beatitudes. We must learn what God expects of us (reading scripture), and then train our bodies to live it out. One way we can do this is through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each of these three practices are very powerful and perhaps a little difficult to achieve. Prayer is essential since it is the way we live out our relationship with God. Fasting is not just abstaining from food, it is abstaining from anything that we may be tempted to value above our relationship with God, and almsgiving is an act of charity in which we love our neighbor as God loves them.
Your homework is this, think of that thing you really love and that you think you can’t live without. Maybe it is sugar in your coffee, sodas, desserts, sleeping in an extra fifteen minutes in the morning, surfing the Internet, watching a certain TV show each week or gossiping with your friends. Pick one, and see if you can give it up for a week. Try your best, and if you fall, get back up, remember you are in training. When you make that little sacrifice, say a prayer of thanksgiving and offer it up to God in union with the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.