I celebrated Mass this afternoon at Mercy Academy. Before leaving the office to head over there, I asked Fr. Phil, the Apostleship of Prayer's Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, what he had preached about earlier. His thoughts led me to change what I'd planned on saying.
I ended up talking about freedom and how the three young men who had been thrown into the furnace (see Daniel 3) were seen "unfettered," walking about in the fire. They were alive and free. But before being thrown into the furnace they were free in the way that is most important. They were free to follow the truth. They were free from the fear of a fiery death, the punishment inflicted upon them for not worshiping a gold statue. The truth--as Jesus said in the gospel (John 8: 31-42)--made them free. It is the truth that there is one God and that this life is not the only life. Freedom means living in that truth.
The world thinks of freedom in a very different way. It sees freedom as being able to do whatever one wants whenever one wants. But such worldly freedom can lead to the slavery of sin. It can lead to attachments and addictions that ironically take one's freedom away. It means embracing a lie about what is truly good for the human person.
Lent is a time to grow in freedom, the freedom to become the persons God created us to be. When we give something up for Lent we exercise the discipline that helps us to be free of those things that can get in the way of our relationship with God, that hinder our becoming as free as the three young men who were cast into the furnace.
I asked the children at Mass today if any of them had given something up for Lent. One boy said that he had given up "electronics," something that can definitely become a compulsion in our world today. I asked him if it had been hard and he responded with a resounding "yes." Then I called on a girl who said that she had given up "whining" for Lent. That got a laugh from many of the other children and especially the adults who were present. Some of the things we give up for Lent, like electronics, are things that we can go back to when Lent is over, and we do so with perhaps a bit more freedom because we've exercised some discipline. But other things, like whining, are things that we hopefully won't return to when Lent is over.
Who knows... maybe, in a couple weeks, that boy will find an electronic game in his Easter basket, but I definitely think that girl won't find "whine" there and she may have to exercise some more discipline if she doesn't find what she was hoping for!