Growing Daily In Perfection As We Prepare For Lent

by Lent, Sin

As Lent draws near, we turn our hearts to Christ’s call to holiness in the Gospels: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Although our life as Catholics demands that we strive day after day and year after year for this perfection, Lent invites us to examine our souls more closely to find where and how, when and why we fall short. And more: it inspires us to take action. Devoting our minds to more frequent contemplation of what Christ suffered for us, our hearts are inflamed to a deeper and more active love of our Savior. 

The Stations Of The Cross

The oldest of Lenten devotions, the Stations of the Cross, works very much to this purpose. The Stations direct our steps away from our own plans and problems and unites them with the purpose of the incarnation of Our Lord: to suffer, die, and rise again for the sins of men. 

We walk with him to Calvary for one reason only: we want to be changed by him. We unite our sufferings with his – and to do this it surely helps if we have meditated on them – in order that our hearts will be transformed. We contemplate his love for us, the greatness of which is shown through not just what he suffered but how he suffered, so that we can change our lives and be more like him. 

With the season of Lent and the devotion of the Stations supporting us, there is little doubt that the desire for interior conversion will grow in us. But first, a question arises: “What then must I do? Lent has shown me that I am sinful. What’s more, it has helped me become aware of patterns of sin in my life: specific things I need to change, habits I need to break – or good habits I need to establish. How do I start?” 

An Examination Of Conscience

As I highlight in my devotional book for Lent, beginning with St. Paul (1 Cor 11:28-31), we can trace one method through the history of the Church, practiced and prescribed over and over. St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Basil, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and many others all relied on this simple daily habit which was crystallized by St. Ignatius of Loyola and re-presented in recent times by St. Josemaría Escrivá: the daily examination of conscience.

A daily conscience exam is an essential tool for leaving aside sin and growing in holiness, because it turns one’s heart toward an honest look at problem behaviors before, in human weakness, they are forgotten. Regular confession, too, is a vital habit, but how much more fruitful will those confessions be if they are informed by a series of daily honest evaluations of the penitent’s thoughts and actions. 

When each evening finds a person admitting the same sins – whether loss of patience; taking the Lord’s name in vain; lying; neglect of prayer; or what have you – the very fact that a sin shows up repeatedly in the exam provides motivation to root it out. 

The habit of a daily conscience exam can be implemented in a variety of ways. Our family prays Compline (Night Prayer) before the children go to bed, and this includes a conscience exam. But if incorporating a conscience exam in your family prayer in the evening is not a good option for you, try to attach the practice to something else that happens every night. If you and your spouse retire at the same time, you could take a moment together to kneel, say a prayer, and quietly examine the day. Could you instead do your conscience exam while you brush your teeth before bed? While you nurse the baby one last time? While you lock up the house? Absolutely. The important thing is to find a way to make it a regular practice that you will be able stick to going forward. 

Awareness Of Our Sinfulness

The awareness of our sinfulness that Lent stirs up in us is a precious thing. But unless we let it inspire us to take concrete action to avoid sin, that awareness is wasted. This Lent, make a commitment to a daily examination of conscience. When you see the difference it makes in your spiritual life it will become a habit as natural as brushing your teeth. And then this Lent will have an impact on your life that doesn’t end with Easter, because it will draw you closer to the perfection that His Resurrection makes possible.

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Image: Photo by Nathan Maduta on Unsplash

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