With Lent right around the corner, many of us are taking to heart how we can let this special season be a catapult to change in our life. The purpose of Lent is to prepare us for Easter, the Resurrection. If we let God have His way, it can become His resurrection in us, bringing us new life.
Any relationship is like the game Candyland and so is our relationship with God. Something incites us with a desire to be in relation with the other person. This brings us to the square on the game board that says “Start”. We act upon that, and it begins.
With God, there is a clearly defined path for our relationship. It is given to us by revelation in Sacred Scripture and explained further through the teachings of our saints:
- God gives us desire for Him and the good of others.
- We say “yes” and accept that desire to do good for others. We are on the “Start” square now!
- We act in ways that are naturally ‘virtuous’. God created each of us with ability to do some good by our own human nature. It is our part in the harmony of creation. He animates it and gives us the actual grace to persevere, but we must will to do it.
- Those virtuous ways become our habits. Our habits dispose us to God’s love.
- The supernatural (theological) virtues of Faith, Hope and Love were infused in our soul at baptism. Now they begin to become more active, perfecting our ‘habits’ and our soul. In our natural ‘good deeds’, we choose to act virtuously. However, these three supernatural virtues come solely from God. We cannot instigate these; we dispose ourselves to it and He does the rest. This means that our virtuous acts for others actually perfect us in the process!
- Each of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit associate to these three supernatural virtues. If we continue to respond to God’s inspiration, which includes the Holy Spirit’s conviction of those times we aren’t acting virtuous, He perfects our soul. The saints say Jesus imprints His own intellect and will upon ours. The more frequent our virtuous choices, the more often we have His eyes to see and understand. Thinking like Him becomes our habit. This is known as sanctifying or habitual grace. It becomes your everyday lived experience, in this very moment today!
This is the path of our growth in God and the growth of God’s presence in us. This is sanctification. This is precisely how the saints became saints, and we are too! And it all begins with our choice to do good. Not to undermine the need to stay out of mortal sin, it is our effort to be rid of our venial sins, vices and weaknesses that are the turning point in the spiritual life. Our ‘effort’ is to identify it with God’s help, admit it fully and honestly to Him, and rectify it by choosing the virtuous act instead (as directed by His Spirit). We do this hand-in-hand with God; it is where relationship is built and healing is given.
Now, in the “Candyland” game of life, we know this path has its pitfalls. Filled with peppermint sticks, gumdrops and Grandma Nutt’s peanut brittle (all God’s grace), we forge ahead growing in prudence, moderation, steadfastness and desire for good of others (justice). Just as we see the Lollipop Forest ahead of us, we take an easier choice and land in the cherry pitfall for a while. With God’s grace, however, we persevere straight through the Ice Cream Floats and can see King Kandy’s Castle ahead, only to get stuck in the Molasses Swamp. That one takes a real purging of ourselves to ‘lighten the load’ of our souls. Then God will lift us out.
Those motes, swamps and pitfalls have two sources: either our own trauma and pain, or the enemy’s wiles. Usually it’s both. Look at the path again: by stopping us in that very first step, he keeps us from the entire path to holiness! For the Christian pursuing God, Satan knows he can’t easily tempt us with mortal sin. Instead, he will offer us a choice that seems good and we must decide between two good choices. God’s choice is always the better good choice; Satan’s the lesser good choice. God’s usually requires more effort because we must will to act with virtue. Too often, we choose the lesser good choice because it is easier, simpler, less effort–notice the sloth trend in this? It’s often a short cut, a compromise affecting quality, partially good (and we pridefully rationalize we can ignore the bad). Satan teases us into these choices because they are less virtuous. These don’t lead us to holiness.
This is why the ‘small stuff’ matters in our life. There is an old saying “the devil’s in the details’ and it is true. He knows that it is through our small conversations with God, our effort to bring God into our everyday tasks and busywork, that we grow in relationship. Those moments with God are eternal—there is nothing ‘small’ about them! And Satan’s sole purpose for all that he does (whether it is extreme violence in the middle east or enticing us to cuss when we stub our toe) is to break our relationship with God. The truth is that God wants to be in those details of our life. He wants to be part of our ‘smallness’.
Satan has been watching humans grow holy since Adam and Eve gave birth to Seth. He knows the game. We don’t because we are new at it. But we have the Holy Spirit within us and our enemy doesn’t. The Spirit pricks our conscious when we consider the lesser good choice and gives consolation with the better good choice. Perhaps you can see the role played by your nightly Examen prayer?
Envision a time that you’ve chosen the lesser good choice. Would it have been easier to resist had you realized that it made Satan and his minions leap in victory? They may have won a small battle but Jesus has already won the war, and taking venial sins to Jesus in confession is critical in His strategy.
From the smallest act comes the greatest change. Let God into the small stuff of your life. Choose to act with excellence for Him, knowing He honors intention and expects imperfection. Making this your Lenten focus can be the catapult to change in your life and, through you, the lives of those you love.
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