The great season of Lent is upon us. 40 days dedicated to personal spiritual growth and a journey leading us into the Holy Triduum. In anticipating the Resurrection, we dedicate time now to strive to be worthy to participate in the resurrection of Christ. We all have things we are giving up, and hopefully things which we are trying to do better during this time. So often when we think of things to give up, we think of things exterior to us like: kinds of food, Netflix, YouTube, soda, Facebook, etc. How often do we look to those interior things like: complaining, judgment, uncharitableness?
A couple of months ago I was watching a TV show involving vikings. At one point I found myself quite motivated to do difficult physically demanding things like: climb a mountain, go live out in the wild for several months, and other things like that. Now, I was never about to actually do these things. But, I was motivated to prove myself physically by doing challenging things. I was so willing to find a way to prove that I could do exterior actions. Then it hit me, if I am so willing to compete externally, why is it so hard to compete internally against myself? I like to think that I would bravely go into battle in real life, but I shirk away now from fighting my interior battles.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
In this passage, Paul is speaking to this exact feeling. We strive so hard to carry out physical tasks and win earthly awards. Instead, we should strive that hard against ourselves, so as to win our heavenly crown. This is where the great beauty of Lent comes in. The Church in her wisdom, has given us this time to battle against ourselves, to find those inner hold outs of darkness and bring the light of Christ to them.
To do battle against ourselves is difficult. Our corrupted nature resists correction. There are three ways that I’ve found that help to fight against myself. The first is self-denial. This is how most of us think to battle against self. So we give up things during Lent and fast on Fridays. By itself, this is good, but if we aren’t purposeful in this, the benefits only go so deep. Instead of just giving up something and fasting, purposely say to the Lord, “I am not doing this thing, so that I might be able to offer myself more fully to you”. The point of giving things up isn’t just to give them up, but instead to remove those things between us and God, and so actually grow closer to Him.
This leads to the second way, being purposeful in acting and self-reflection. When you act, think why are you doing such and such a thing. When you speak, think why am I saying these things. Are you acting to serve Christ and build up His kingdom, or are you just acting mindlessly, or worse are you purposefully seeking the harm of another. We are gifted with an intellect and the freedom to choose that which is good. To go through life without thinking why we do what we do is an affront to such a gift, and it blinds us to our shortcomings. Self reflection aids in acting purposefully. Every day you should take some time to reflect upon your day. Find those times that God blessed you and give thanks. Find those times that you strayed from God and sinned and seek forgiveness. Truly stand naked before yourself. You can lie to others, you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to God. So you may as well also be honest with yourself. The more you know yourself as you really are, the more you know where you need to correct.
In reflecting upon our actions, we find our sins. The third key to battling against yourself is confession. If you reflect regularly, noticing your failures, then going to confession is easier. You already know what to confess. As you confess more regularly, it becomes easier to continue going. Ideally you should go to confession on a regular schedule. I think that once a month is probably a reasonable frequency for most people. Should you fall into mortal sin, you should make an act of contrition immediately and then go to confession as soon as possible, no matter how embarrassing it is. This is when the battle against self is more important and difficult. But, this is when we win our biggest battles against ourselves. The Devil will be most active at this time to keep you from securing such a victory over your internal struggle. He wants to keep us distracted with outside things. Good confessions shine right into the depths of our soul and bring Christ’s healing light into the darkness. Let this season of Lent be a time of greater self-mastery, so that we might be able to enter more fully into the mystery of Easter.