All references to and citations from Scripture come from the Douay-Rheims Challoner Revision ©1899.
We are just a few days into Lent and already people are struggling with the things they cast aside during this penitential season. This happens every year. It doesn’t matter whether they are a casual “Christmas and Easter Catholic” or a daily Mass-goer. The Devil desires to see us fail. He desires to cast doubt in us about the strength of our faith. But fear not, for Jesus tells us, “For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Remove from hence hither,’ and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you” (Matthew 17:19). Faith as a grain of mustard seed - and we can move mountains. Why then, do so many of us struggle with our faith?
We struggle with our faith because we are selfish. We put ourselves before God. We often put our wants and desires above that which is truly good for us. When we put ourselves first, we forget the Great Commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mark 12:30). I am not pointing fingers. I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I am writing this today because I see my own shortcomings, and I hope to help others avoid the personal Hell I find myself in from time to time.
If you are anything like me, you probably find yourself confessing the same sins over and over again. This should be the first indication that reformation is needed. What do we mean when we use the term reformation? I heard a sermon recently on reformation, and the priest said this, “Reformation is not to re-form, in this sense, coming up with a new form. Rather, at its origin, to reform means to return to form - eliminating deviations, removing deformations, a return to the purity of the form so it can flourish and reach its full potential.” Christ gave us the Church to guide us, teach us, and to help us reach our full potential. To reach that full potential, we must remove the deformations in our soul. We must overcome concupiscence. Concupiscence, for those who do not know, is our inclination to sin. It is the result of Original Sin.
Because of Original Sin, we will never be perfect. We will never reach that fullest potential for which God created us - at least not as long as we are on this earth. However, Christ has given us the tools we need in order to be as close to perfect as we can be. Yet, so many people today choose to blatantly disregard Christ’s guidance, and refuse to use the tools He makes available to us. One of those tools that Christ makes available to us is the sacrament of Penance. Many people today refuse to acknowledge the sinfulness of their actions, because with that acknowledgement, they will have to change their ways. They will have to reform. Pope Pius XII, in 1946, during his address to the National Catechetical Congress in Boston, said it best when he said, “The evil of this civilization is the loss of the sense of sin.” Walk into many Catholic Churches before Mass on any given Sunday and see how short or even non-existent the lines are for Confession.
As we are now in the season of Lent, it is the perfect opportunity to examine one’s conscience if one doesn’t do so on a regular basis already. Remember, the third precept of the Church is to go to confession AT LEAST once per year, and since the fourth precept is to receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once per year, during the Easter season - what is known as the “Easter Duty” - going to confession during Lent makes sense. Regardless of the precepts, going to confession during Lent makes sense, as it offers the opportunity for reformation. Remember the words which conclude the Act of Contrition, “I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.” If one is going to reform their soul, they must start by amending their life. This may require a change in mindset, modifying behavior, or breaking old habits. Jesus never said it would be easy. In fact, He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Many of us are suffering the loss of our souls and don’t even realize it because we have self-medicated with sin. Changing our mindset, modifying our behavior, and breaking old habits is the cross we need to bear if we are going to follow Christ. My wife likes to say, “Christ will accept us as we are, but He will not allow us to stay that way.” Look at the Apostles. He took them as they were, and then He led them to change. Christ does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. He has called each and every single one of us. Are we willing to put in the work? To carry that cross?
Lent is the perfect time to detox our minds, our bodies, and our souls. Often, one will give up something they love for Lent, mourning the loss of that thing for six weeks, only to reintroduce that thing at Easter. What if one truly desired to reform themselves during Lent? To eliminate deviations and remove deformations. On average, it takes two months for a new behavior to become automatic. If one began their reformation on Septuagesima Sunday, three Sundays before Ash Wednesday, they could eliminate that sinful behavior by Easter. Septuagesima, for those who do not know, is a three week mini season of penance and preparation for Lent celebrated in the Church prior to the advent of the Novus Ordo. This mini season is still seen today in parishes that celebrate the Mass and sacraments according to the usus antiquior. To the casual observer, it looks a lot like Lent. The priest wears violet vestments, and the Gloria and Alleluia are absent from the liturgy. Like the Sundays of Lent, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are prayed on the Sundays of Septuagesima.
Use this season of Lent to truly reform your soul. To finally, once and for all, bury a sinful behavior. Make use of the sacrament of Penance - even if you are not conscious of any mortal sin. Confessing those venial sins can help keep you from mortal sin. While venial sin does not deprive us of sanctifying grace, deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us to commit mortal sin. Let us all reform our souls. Let us return to that purity with which we were formed, so we may flourish and reach our full potential - that is, eternal life in Heaven with God.