When my wife and I began having children, we lost a good deal of personal freedom. No more spontaneous movie nights, dining out, or travel. Bedtime shifted to 9 p.m. and I rose each morning at 5 a.m., whether I liked it or not, by a child-sized foot repeatedly kicking my kidneys. Every activity is now carefully pre-planned.
It’s a lot like that planning scene in Oceans 11. We want to know about bathroom access, where all the exits are, the snack situation and maintain a well-stocked diaper bag at all times. There’s a ritual synchronizing of watches so the integrity of nap time remains carefully guarded and protected. Everything became more complicated and we quickly learned our limits, often declining invitations to perfectly fun events because they don’t fit our parenting lifestyle.
Marriage is the same story. When we were married, we each lost a certain amount of freedom. I had to learn to share space with another person, defer on certain decisions, and practice the fine art of compromise. I had to learn to how to tolerate another person — my wife (ahem) — leaving the light on in every room and never, ever closing the basement door. She had to learn how to put up with all my annoying habits (too numerous to list). We fully gave ourselves to each other, never counting the cost. By definition, our individual freedom to do certain things disappeared because we became obligated to our marriage bond before all else.
My particular vocation, in addition to marriage and family, also happens to include the priesthood. Each morning I wake up with a commitment on my calendar — celebrate the morning Mass in the parish. I celebrate this Mass seven days a week, rain or shine, even if the roads aren’t plowed of snow yet, even if there’s a tornado watch. I celebrate the Sunday evening Mass each week even if there’s a football game on the television I really, really want to watch, even if it’s the 4th of July and I’m late for the fireworks.
Like all of you, my life has been a series of deliberate choices, choosing this option instead of that option, and accepting that as a consequence my freedom to do anything and everything has been diminished. I made my choice. I committed.
There’s a real beauty in identifying how God is calling you and then making the free choice to commit to that calling with all that you are. A marriage, children, friendship, a hobby you love, a spiritual discipline, the priesthood — all of these are worthy of our full attention. It’s a joy to limit ourselves for their sake. It’s heroic, even. It’s the path to sainthood.
Having made our commitments, we discover freedom isn’t what we thought it was. It isn’t unlimited, never-ending choices. Freedom is a positive choice to commit and seek greatness, to seek love at the heart of all that we do. If this is the freedom that we can guard and protect, we will be greatly blessed.
Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.