|And God sayeth, “Don’t make to much of it. It’s
delicious, but probably won’t bring salvation. That’s
The most painful paradox Christianity offers – and if carried out, the happiest – is that we must die to ourselves in order to fully live. Advent is a time to give this insanity a decent shot, in preparation for the coming of the God-man: Not to be miserable, but to be able to enjoy everything fully. Let me explain. Though often associated with long faces and skinny people, dying to ourselves is really the key to some solid, festive, and joyful good living. It does not mean never drinking beer. It means not caring about beer. It means enjoy the thing while it is in your mug, making good and proper use of it, with the full realization that if you are called to, it will be dumped out without regrets. The moment we drink with necessity, the moment beer becomes an attachment, then it is everything the Prohibitionists said it was. But if you ‘drink because you do not have to”, then congratulations, you have died to yourself in that regard and can live fully, without addictions, without regrets but with the freedom and happiness in beer-drinking God wants for His children. The odd truth is this: if you care about beer you can’t enjoy it.
Dying to ourselves does not mean burning our money and putting our family into poverty for the sake of the Gospel. It means treating your money with the same happy indifference you treat your drink, ready to give it away at the drop of a hat, ready to spend it at the same. The wonderful invention of alms-giving serves two purposes. One is obvious; to help the beggar. The second is more subtle, but more sublime. It is practice for the giver, practicing the ability of not caring a dime about money, seeing it as a tool, maybe even as an ugly necessity. Buying something fantastic, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, at a ridiculous price and at the drop of a hat is very likely evidence of a man who can enjoy wealth by not caring about it. Again, the truth of the matter is backwards: if you care about your money, you can’t really spend it happily. It is important to remember that Scrooge was rich – but lived at the heat of a miserable fire for love his money. Whereas those who die to the world can stoke their fires – the money does not matter.
What is it that we need to stop caring about? For myself, it was dying to music. Music is a great and wonderful thing, but if we do not have the power to turn it off as easily as turning it on – when necessary – then we can never enjoy as much when it is on. Now it is ever more fantastic; each song is a surprise. Fasting is not so much a way to make you feel like crap for a day as it is to make breakfast delicious. If you can die even to necessities like food, food is all the better. Just ask the Desert Fathers. It comes to the careless words of our Lord: Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Let us learn to do as our Father tells us to do, to not care. My point at the end of it all is this: We must wear this world like we wear our hat; ready to hang it.