The Freedom of Self-Mastery

115455115I am not a morning person.  Many early morning hours of my life have been spent rushing around, scalding my throat on hot coffee, and running out the door with a hope and a prayer that I didn’t forget anything important I might need for the day–all because I didn’t get out of bed when I should have.

Over the years, the early morning hours have become more precious to me.  I love slowly sipping a cup of fresh coffee as the sun extends its fingers over the earth.  I love the peace and silence of my house before anyone else is awake.  I love feeling like, for a few moments, it’s just me and God.

But I still struggle.  Four active young children, a nursing baby, and a full household to manage often makes it difficult to convince my body to do the will of my spirit.  The snooze button on my alarm clock is my vice.  I consider myself to be fairly self disciplined in many areas of my life, but between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 am, the snooze button is master.

“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work.  One can never consider it acquired once and for all.”  (CCC 2342)

Yes, the snooze button reminds me every day that I am an unfinished work, slowly being formed according to God’s will.  It reminds me that there is a fine line between improving ourselves and turning ourselves into “object[s] of manipulation” (TOB 123:1) by the many artificial means that exist to do so.  The pursuit of perfect self-mastery allows us to acknowledge there is a higher power than ourselves on whom we must rely to overcome our inherent concupiscence of the flesh.  Self-mastery allows us to live in the freedom of the Spirit rather than living as slaves to the urges of our bodies.

It is in these moments of glaring humanity, these moments of defeat and frustration, that we are on the brink of the perfection of divine strength.  For the Lord tells Paul in 2 Corinthians that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul continues by saying, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Corinthians: 9-10)

It is in these moments that we are extended an invitation to throw our entire selves into the arms of God, where the desires of our flesh become opportunities to grow into the infinite expanse of God’s vast love for us.  It is in these moments that we can surrender ourselves to God and become truly free by the power of His grace.

What a glorious thing true freedom is!  The freedom of self-mastery allows us to have patience with a child who doesn’t want to go to bed at the end of a long, tiring day.  Self-mastery allows us to manage our busy households in a way that keeps schedules running smoothly and laundry under control.  Self-mastery allows us to love our spouse according to God’s law through the beauty of openness to life and natural family planning.  Self-mastery allows us to be free to pursue the deepest desires of our hearts.

Aren’t these the things that make us who we are?  That make us persons, distinct from every other living creature on this earth?

“Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself.”  (TOB 123:5)

We should relish in the fact that we are not slaves to our physical beings as the animals are.  We were created with the capacity to choose love time and time again.  We were created with the ability to practice self-mastery in even the tiniest choices of our daily lives in order that we might better form our will to God’s–in order that we might become a living image of Christ Himself in the way we conduct ourselves and live out our vocation.

“…self-mastery is indispensable in order for man to be able to ‘give himself’, in order for him (referring to the words of the Council) to be able to ‘find himself fully’ through ‘a sincere gift of self’ [Gaudium et Spes, 24:3] “  (TOB 15:2)

In order for one to give a gift, that person must possess the gift first.  Let us seek to obtain self-mastery in every moment of our day.  Let us seek to possess the gift that will allow us to realize the full potential of who we are when we give it to others.  For it is only when we seek to know ourselves as God does, as a gift to be given, that we will become who He created us to be.

Image Credit: Mike Manzano (


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