Bishop’s Reflection: Break the Slavery of the World in Our Lives

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

The other day I read a quote from author Dorothy Bass who, in her book Keeping the Sabbath, suggested that in the book of Deuteronomy the commandment to “observe the Sabbath Day” is tied to the experience of a people newly released from bondage.  She reflected, “SLAVES CANNOT TAKE A DAY OFF; FREE PEOPLE CAN.”  This was a commandment, but one given to the now freed Israelites to live as the FREE people of God.

We enjoy in the United States a wonderful freedom to live our lives.  Unfortunately our culture can be so pervasive that we can become enslaved without realizing it, or we are forced to adapt, even against our wishes. When I read the quote, “Slaves cannot take a day off, free people can,” I thought of so many ways we may be slaves that we are unaware of: to our desires, to our things and to the opinions of others. Perhaps we are not free at all.

I am old enough to remember the introduction of the “answering machine.”  I did not have one because I felt the parishioners could reach me during my office hours.  After a while parishioners became a little angry when my phone was not answered when I was not home.  So eventually I had to give in to the pressure and connect an answering machine to my phone. The machine was supposed to be a convenience that made me freer, but instead it only allowed me to take more calls and made my life busier.

I remember the time before cell phones when you would go on vacation and the only way to communicate with your job or family was at a pay phone or at the hotel. Fast forward to today and look at how important our phones are and how we are attached (enslaved) to them.  Now I feel uncomfortable even going to the store a few miles away without my phone.  They are great helps, but we are never alone and always on call.

How can we be sure that we are free to live and make decisions as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as good Catholics?

The freedom of Jesus is the freedom to Love one another as God has loved us first.  The freedom we should be striving for is the virtue to be free to love others, our family, the poor, our coworkers with the love of Christ.  This is our goal as Christians and the conversion we seek will increase our love of God and neighbor and it will be a guide to break the slavery of the world in our lives.

The difficulty with this way is that to love others we must take the focus off ourselves. We have to decide to make our spiritual life a priority. We need to be aware of how our lives are controlled by subtle realities that seem to be an exercise in personal freedom, but may also be a kind of enslavement and obstacle to following Jesus. For example: Is our desire to be “in style” or to have the latest gadget a freedom or a slavery? Are we free to be out of fashion and/or choose a simpler lifestyle? Do we choose to schedule what Sunday Mass we will attend before we schedule anything else or do other things exert more influence in our lives?  In conversation with others are we free to put them first, giving our full attention while not looking at our phones?  Do we really need to check our phones or text when we are in church? (Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asked his apostles, “Can you not watch one hour with me?”)  Are we free to not look at pornography or do we fool ourselves that we can stop when we want to?  Are we free to forgive someone who has hurt us or do we enjoy holding on to the grudge?

Let us examine our lives and trust the wisdom of Christ and His Church more than the wisdom of the world. Look at your life with eyes of faith and see that some of the “free choices” we make are not so free. So many of the worries, concerns, wants, unhealed wounds, angers and grudges we carry are burdens that enslave us, drain our energy and make us feel like we cannot change. Often we may deep down not want to change because we feel safe in our enslavement; we like our sin and are even comforted in our self-centered world. But this is a lie that robs us of hope and enthusiasm for life.  Examine your life. Make your prayer and sacramental life and relationships of love a priority. Do not let yourself be distracted by self-serving choices but rather strive always to follow Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  It is only in the Christian way of Love that we will find joy, hope and true freedom.

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