For his Ash Wednesday homily, the priest at my local parish discussed the secular idea of freedom vs the freedom granted by observing ascetic rituals such as Lenten fasting. He pointed out that non-Catholics do not understand why even lapsed Catholics observe Lent and Friday abstinence. The non-Catholics think that we are slaves to the ritual and are not free in our actions because of the laws imposed upon us by the Church and ultimately ourselves. This brings up the question: are others free because they do as they please or are they just slaves to their impulses and base desires? The latter seems closer to the truth.
How many people do you know that are truly happy while chasing impulse and desire? I can’t think of many. They are controlled by the seeking of ephemeral pleasure derived from giving in to desire.
The ascetic,on the other hand, seeks true happiness through spiritual freedom. By observing ascetic ritual, one can reflect upon those things truly important: God, the world, and his relation to both. Understanding this, a Catholic is then free to pursue more fulfilling goals.
I would continue, but it is late, and some of the homily escapes me. These are just a couple of ideas that stuck in my brain.