Broheimer: Lent an excellent time to root out habitual sin
When we examine our lives in general or maybe more specifically as we prepare for confession, we can easily recognize our sins – especially the ones we continue to commit regularly. We are aware of them. We know we shouldn’t do them. We know we would like to change, but how do we do that?
Our efforts to stop habitual sin often involve us trying simply to avoid committing a particular sin. But that is not the best way. First, we are weak. If we were strong enough on our own to make the right choice not to sin, then we would not have sinned in the first place. Only by the transformative grace of God are we going to keep from sinning.
Secondly, conquering sin is not only a matter of avoiding a sin, although that is good and we should do that. To truly conquer a sin, we must practice its opposing virtue. Pride can only be conquered by practicing humility. Greed can only be conquered by practicing charity. Spiritual sloth can only be conquered by industry or diligence, and so on. Whatever sin we regularly find ourselves committing can only be conquered if we practice its opposing virtue. Otherwise, the temptation will remain very strong in our lives. Without the development of virtue, we are only hanging on by our own weak will to not sin.
Further, the practice of virtues must begin in the heart and not only our actions. Our Lord tells us more than once that sin begins in the heart. He even tells us that a sin committed in the heart has the same gravity as a sinful action. And in the Gospel this Sunday he tells us, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Good and evil – it all begins in the heart. It is the heart that must be converted and not just an effort made to change our actions or words on the surface. God’s generous assistance, especially through the transformative grace of the sacraments, plus our own effort is the best way to live the virtues that oppose our habitual sins or vices and will conquer them.
Lent begins this Wednesday. This is a truly excellent time for us to examine our lives and consider where we need to change. I believe it is a good time for us to examine where we find habitual sin in our lives and begin to make a concerted effort to practice the opposing virtue to those sins.
God wants us to be free of our slavery to sin. He wants us to know the freedom of virtue and the joy that will result from a holy life. We should allow him to do this work within us this Lent and then afterward continue the good lessons we have learned.
Father John Broheimer is pastor of St. Peter Parish in Omaha.