By Amber Kinloch
When it comes to the spiritual life, we want to cultivate good habits without being habitual. This is especially true when it comes to waging war against sin. Too often, we put up a half-hearted struggle. Oh, we might look quite good on the outside, getting ourselves to Mass (even daily), going to Confession often, praying the Rosary, etc. But are we really making progress? Or are we just going through it all out of a sense of routine?
In short, are we genuinely seeking to cultivate a relationship with God? Or is God just a box to check off our “To Do” list?
Lukewarmness is a huge problem. It is not enough to remain in the state of grace and not commit mortal sin. That is the bare minimum and should not be the bar a Catholic sets for themselves. At best, much good will remain undone by a person. At worst, they will grow ever more sluggish until eventually they fall away from God, perhaps without even noticing it. As the devil Screwtape remarks in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:
“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (Emphasis mine.)
We see, then, how important it is to actively struggle to root sin out of our lives. A great aid here is making regular, in-depth examinations of conscience where we examine ourselves not only as regards our sins, but also as to the causes and triggers. Let’s say, for instance, that a friend and I both confess to getting angry with others and wasting time. Well, how and why we sin might look a lot different when we examine ourselves.
I might waste time because I find my work difficult and, being a perfectionist, I’m afraid of doing an imperfect job. So, I procrastinate with trivial jobs where I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile even though I know I should be hammering away at that big project.
My friend, on the other hand, might be fond of attention and easily bored. So, they pop open Facebook in an Internet tab “just for five minutes.” Then the phone rings and they eagerly grab for it. Or they hear a couple of family members chatting in the kitchen and go join them.
It’s the same thing with anger. I might be easily pricked by a passing comment on my work made by someone who has no idea how sensitive I am. I silently simmer away, internally tearing that person down and analyzing every single fault (real or imaginary) in their work. The only way you might guess I’m upset is by the frown furrowing my brow.
Meantime, my friend is a passionate sort who bubbles over like a pot on the stove. Their trigger is incompetent peacocks. So, when that new hire at the office starts blubbering on about how ___ wasn’t their fault, my friend launches into a tirade and upbraids them for their stupidity without a second thought.
On that note, we might also ask when we lapse into sin. Maybe it’s during mid-afternoon when our energy levels are low. Or it’s right when we get up in the morning and our family members are ready to talk while we are not.
And what of where? For a person struggling with lust, that computer in their bedroom is probably the primary danger. For another grappling with gluttony, it’s the grocery store, the fridge, and the coffee shop.
Once you’ve figured these things out, it’s good to take a step back and consider the big picture. Look at a Crucifix and think about Who you’re offending with your sins and what a price He paid to redeem you. Think of what you’re called to be, all the good you’ve failed to accomplish, and all God still might do through You. Think of people like Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and St. Therese. Imagine what it’d be like if they’d never striven as high as they did and had remained content with being mediocre. So many souls might be lost.
And what of Heaven? Today, I was reading about planets, galaxies, and the stars. It got me thinking about how vast and intricate the universe is, and yet how God, Who created it all, hides Himself in the guise of the Eucharist. It’s mind blowing. And despite that, St. Paul records: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
With such reflections to brace us, it’s easier to take a deep breath and ask, “Okay, now what am I going to do to overcome these faults that are the cause of my sins?”
If I struggle with wasting time, I can focus more on a concrete list of tasks and take steps to eliminate distractions (e.g., turn off the phone, block Facebook notifications, etc.). I can jot down a few points about why I’m trying to use my time better and post those at my desk. I can offer up my work for the Souls in Purgatory and promise myself a little reward for each task accomplished.
The important thing is to make the commitment and then get on with it, no matter what. There will be falls, but that’s alright. God isn’t looking so much for success as effort.
Fighting sin is not a mere self-improvement program. It’s about ripping out all that separates us from God so that He may entirely fill us. It’s about putting Him at the forefront of our lives where He belongs. If we strive to keep Him there, we’ll never be a soul of routine.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.