I feel trapped by my obligations!

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I once heard a priest explain in a homily that the First Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), means that we should not let ourselves become “possessed by our possessions.” That’s an interesting thought, but I find myself possessed by my obligations — tuition and mortgage payments, and lots of bills. Does the Church have anything to say about this form of “possession”? 

W.R., Pennsylvania

The Church, as you know, is the “people of God.” The lived experience of the “people” can be considered a source of important though unofficial teaching. There are lots of others in the faith community who have dealt with the problem you pose. So talk to them and see what you can learn.

First, you undoubtedly will discover the importance of setting priorities in your life; in this case, spending priorities. Second, you will learn from others the danger of what someone has called “the tyranny of the promises we make to ourselves.” Who ever said that you absolutely have to own this particular house or car, take a vacation here or there, belong to a particular club, send your children to a given camp or school? You may have made one or more of those “promises” to yourself, but you have to pause from time to time to ask why. Are those promises exercising a kind of tyranny over you now? Are they the reason why you feel “possessed by your obligations”?

To help you explore your question from a faith perspective, consider these verses from the First Letter of St. John: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

First of all, you have to understand that John is using “world” here in the oppositional sense of all that is hostile to God, all that could separate you from God; he thus sees love of the “world” and love of God as mutually exclusive. Elsewhere in John you read that God “so loved the world that He gave his only son” (John 3:16); so the world, properly understood, is indeed good and lovable. The passage I quoted above introduces you to what has been called the “triple concupiscence” — the three “lusts” that can take us in and pull us down. They can deflect us, in other words, from following the will of God.

No need to dwell here on the lust of the flesh, but the lust of the eyes — the experience we all have of becoming suddenly discontent with what we have because we now see something bigger and better — is worth considering. The advertising industry plays to that lust.

So, disengage yourself from the grip of the triple concupiscence and take another look at your priorities. Trim your “obligations” to match your reasonable needs. Then enjoy your newfound freedom.

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