If you are expecting this article to provide suggestions for dropping some pounds during the Lenten season, I’m afraid that you may be disappointed. However, I strongly urge you to continue reading since the “weight” loss that I will address will allow you to shed some of the sins and earthly attachments that keep you from getting closer to God!
Let’s face it, we are all weighed down to some extent by selfishness and assorted vices. Given a choice, very few of us will choose suffering over comfort. Many times, we don’t even realize how much we love to be comfortable. Fortunately, the Church gives us the season of Lent to examine our souls and remove the extra “weight” that keeps us apart from the Lord. Here are five simple steps that you can use during Lent to identify and eliminate some of this excess “poundage” from your life.
Determine what is weighing you down – For many of us, we aren’t even aware of those things that weigh us down. The first step in this process is to use prayerful meditation to discover the “weighty” issues. Take a look at how you spend your time. Do your activities bring you closer to the Lord? Do you spend an exorbitant amount of time on leisure activities? Are you holding grudges against those who may have offended you? Do your daily actions set a good example for your children, family, co-workers or fellow students? Are you in the state of mortal sin? Have you fallen away from the Church? Answering these questions honestly provides the foundation for the other steps.
Set realistic goals – You aren’t going to realistically eliminate all your excess “weight” during the forty days of Lent, so don’t try! Obviously, you should first concentrate on any mortal sins in your life. This can be addressed by repenting and receiving the Sacrament of Confession. As a reminder, the Church still teaches that any unforgiven mortal sins can result in the eternal damnation of hell (CCC 1035), so these matters should be addressed immediately. I’m not trying to frighten anyone, but rather to emphasize that it’s extremely urgent to obtain forgiveness for mortal sins through sacramental Confession as soon as possible! For those other faults and imperfections in your life, choose a few that you’d like to eliminate. You may want to start with those that are the easiest to correct or you may want to tackle the ones that cause the most difficulty in your spiritual life. Don’t forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help you with this process. He will point you in the right direction.
Substitute “healthy” alternatives – What do you do when you feel worried or stressed? Watch television, eat, drink, go shopping? While none of these things are intrinsically evil, perhaps there’s a “healthier” alternative. Rather than using these activities to escape from our problems, we could instead turn to the Lord in prayer. Praying for an enemy is a great alternative to getting angry or holding a grudge. Going to daily Mass once or twice a week can be substituted for an hour of sleep. Money that would have been spent on shopping can be donated to charity. The gift of each new day is a precious gift from God and choosing how we spend our time shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even if they aren’t sinful, the elimination of useless activities can free up time that can be given to God.
Don’t try to do it alone – God doesn’t expect us to execute this plan on our own. He provides us with the gifts of the Eucharist and Confession to assist us with our “weight” loss program. The sacraments provide us with the graces that we need to achieve our goal. Don’t ignore them! If you find yourself committing the same sin repeatedly, the graces received in the Eucharist and Confession can give you the strength necessary to finally be victorious. Also, be sure to pray and ask the Lord for His help. While it sounds obvious, it’s very easy to get so caught up in our own efforts that we forget to involve God in the process. Unfortunately, doing it alone just about guarantees failure. The Lord knows that we are weak and therefore is always willing to offer His assistance.
Don’t give up – A wise priest once gave me some great advice. He explained that if you are trying to overcome a particular sin or imperfection and fail 99 out of 100 times, rejoice that you succeeded one time and don’t get discouraged. The devil loves it when we become discouraged and will often use our failures to convince us to quit. If you fail, repent, go to confession if necessary and keep on going! From time to time, our human nature is going to get the best of us and we will fail in our effort to please the Lord. Jesus addressed this situation in the Garden when He told His sleeping disciples, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41) St. Paul also comments on the weakness of the flesh when he states, “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” (Gal 5:17) In other words, don’t be surprised if you fail sometimes. The desire for comfort and pleasure seeking can be very powerful, but with our persistence and God’s grace we can win the battle.
I encourage you to try these steps during this Lenten season and see what a difference they make in your life. Even if you fail at every attempt to shed your excess “weight” (which I don’t think will happen), you still will have tried and the Lord will appreciate and reward your effort. In the meantime, take advantage of the gift of Lent to keep shedding those spiritual pounds. By doing so, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate Easter a little “lighter”!