“The truest freedom from the slavery of sin flows from the Cross of Christ.”

– Pope Francis

I never play the lottery, but I have always believed I should win the jackpot. Given that long-held belief and the fact that the purse was in the billions, I thought it was time to buy a ticket. Almost immediately after the ticket printed out, I felt, deep down, that it was going to be my moment. I started making silent agreements with God to try and solidify the outcome. If I win, I would pay off the debt of Diocese X, and school Y, and endow the ministry of Catholic Leadership Institute until Jesus returned. I had figured out the massive bonus I would give to all my hardworking colleagues serving in ministry. As I developed all of my altruistic plans of my new-found munificence, I may have had some small daydreams about what winning the jackpot would mean for me. Perhaps I would stop traveling so much for work. I could see a shore house in our family's future. Maybe I wouldn’t work at all, or only write these reflections every other week. I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for my children’s college, maintaining a vacation budget, or replacing the air conditioning unit. Honestly, my first thoughts were about freedom. Free from the worries of daily life. Free from the stresses of work. Free from hard choices.

I happened to be leading a session for parish leaders the day of the drawing and I started to “joke” that I was going to win (because I was sure I was going to win). I congratulated two participants for courageously selecting seats in the front by promising each of them $100,000 if I won. After answering one of my questions, another participant requested $200,000, to much laughter. Before I knew it, I was actually starting to become a little anxious about the amount of pretend money I had already dolled out. Would I have enough leftover? Was I using it in the right way? Who in my life was I forgetting and would be offended that I forgot them?

When I awoke the next morning to find out that in fact, I hadn’t won, I was more disappointed than I thought I would be. As friends and coworkers teased about my state of mourning, I reflected on the silliness of the minor emotional rollercoaster I went on, given the odds of actually winning the Powerball. In my prayer however, I couldn’t help but think about the more serious temptation in my heart that the lotto opened up in a way I wasn’t expecting – my desire to be free and self-sufficient. The daydream of not having expectations or accountability was a lot more attractive in my heart than I wanted to admit. Even in all the nice plans I had made for others, at the heart of them, was a desire to be in control. It made me wonder if in my discipleship, would I pass the test of choosing dependence on the Lord despite winning an earthly jackpot? In the blessings of my life that I’ve already received, do I give thanks to God for His abundant love, or do I keep adding to the list of what I need?

I figured that if a $2 ticket could send me on such a journey, perhaps I should take a break from the lotto for a while, or at least until it reaches a billion dollars again. For the winner in California, you can make a tax-deductible donation at catholicleaders.org. For the rest of us who have already won in the victory of Christ over death, let’s pray that we recognize that true freedom comes not from what we have, but to Whom we are blessed to belong.

by Daniel Cellucci

October 16, 2023

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