When was the last time that you appreciated the taste of ordinary tap water? I love the taste of Diet Coke, and often when I’m standing between the water fountain and a Coke dispenser here at the seminary, I reach for the Diet Coke. But on my recent trip to Rome, Italy, I had to change my habit quickly. When I went to restaurants, I ordered Diet Coke. Then I looked at the bill, and they were charging 3 Euros for a small 10-ounce can of Diet Coke. Do you know how much 3 Euros are in US Dollars? $4.50!!! I understood then why Big Mac Value Meal in Rome costs 7 Euros; that is $10.50!!! I had to quickly change my drinking habit to tap water to save money.
The irony is that plain tap water is infinitely better for my body than regular or diet Coke, yet it costs nothing. My mind knows that, but my mouth craves the taste of cola. I have conditioned my mouth and my mind to crave diet cola. When I stay away from the cola for awhile, I start hearing a jingle in my mind, “Just for the taste of it, Diet Coke!”
The same irony happens with our spiritual life. Our Lord presents to us the way to life and prosperity by loving him, walking in his way, and keeping his commandments, as our reading from Deuteronomy states. But frequently our senses are tuned to something else; we turn away our hearts and not listen, and are led astray and adore and serve other gods. For example, sometimes I spend more time in front of a TV or computer than in prayer. For those of you who were at Nicaragua a month ago on mission trip, don’t you marvel at how you were able to do without TV, computer, or cell phone for a week? Why is our will so weak that we cannot choose what is good for us? What is the remedy for this?
Our Lord lays down his solution in the Gospel. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” A small act of denying ourselves of our usual favorite things have a great spiritual benefit. Self-denial is retraining our senses to again ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord.’ For this Lent, I will be denying myself of diet cola and choosing water instead. It doesn’t sound like much. But I know that by consciously making this small act of self-denial, I will again appreciate the goodness and the taste of water, hence helping me to taste the goodness of the Lord in the ordinary.
(Given at Notre Dame Seminary)