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This morning I was reading a bit from Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, when I came across the following insightful quote and felt compelled to share it:
It should be accepted as a most elementary human and moral truth that no man can live a fully sane and decent life unless he is able to say "no" on occasion to his natural bodily appetites. No man who simply eats and drinks whenever he feels like eating and drinking, who smokes whenever he feels the urge to light a cigarette, who gratifies his curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can consider himself a free person. He has renounced his spiritual freedom and become the servant of bodily impulse. Therefore his mind and his will are not fully his own. They are under the power of his appetites.... [Fr. Jason: This is why Catholics give things up in Lent and on Friday, etc. It helps us grow in true freedom.]
In general, it can be said that no contemplative life is possible without ascetic self-discipline. One must learn to survive without the habit-forming luxuries which get such a hold on men today....
I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watched it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men whose judgement I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious (apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity) and absurd. Certainly it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub-natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
Amen to that! Now, if you like to watch t.v., don't think I'm looking down on you while quoting this. I like this quote because it reminds me of something of which I, myself, needed reminding. To grow in our relationships with God at all we need to become less attached to the things of the world. These things are good (God did not create junk) and here for our use, but they are not the goal of our lives. God is our goal, not comfort, wealth, ease of life, etc.
Likewise, freedom is not some mere lack of restraint to do whatever one pleases at any moment. Rather, true freedom is the ability to do the good. Merton explained in this passage how we are not truly free if we are enslaved to our passions, if we are addicted to television or alcohol or tobacco or pornography or whatever it might be.
We should all strive to be truly free so we can know and love God. Only then will be be truly happy.