Lent Reflection day 35
Some years ago a young woman came to my office who was drowning in debt. We looked at the situation. She had multiple credit cards with balances, and struggled to pay the minimums. I told her to stop. I suggested she put all of her money into the card with the highest interest rate. All of it. No eating out, no new shoes, pay everything with cash. And get ready to get calls from the other cards. Within six months, she had paid off the worst one. OK, I told her, on to the next. Within a couple of years, she was debt free, one foe at a time.
I use this example sometimes to suggest to people that they concentrate on ridding themselves of only one of their sinful habits, not all of them at once. When we are attacked by that pack of wild dogs the demons, it’s pointless to rush at them all at once and hope for the best. Rather, we must concentrate our energies on the one which poses the most threat, the biggest, the one in the front, the one who is bent on destroying us. Let the others ones alone for the time being. It’s surprising how different the spiritual struggle is when we take that approach. Of course, we don’t allow ourselves to sin in any or all of the other ways when we’re concentrating our efforts on the one sin, not at all. We don’t say to ourselves, “I had a really good time of prayer this morning, I’ll let myself be judgmental throughout the day as a reward.”
Unseen Warfare addresses this technique in the thirty-fifth chapter, entitled, Some Indications Useful in the Work of Overcoming Passions and Acquiring Virtue. I’ll quote from part of the chapter:
First of all I say to you, brothers and sisters, in acquiring virtue do not follow the example of those who, in the course of the seven days of the week, arrange their spiritual works in such a way that one should serve one virtue, another, another virtue, and so on, without taking into consideration whether they stand in need of this or that at the actual moment. No, do not act thus, but take up arms pre-eminently against the passion which troubles you most, which has often conquered you and which is ready to attack you again now. Fight it with your whole strength and strive to establish yourself in the virtue opposed to that passion, using for this purpose all suitable practices and tasks. For as soon as you succeed in this, you will, by this very fact, bring to life all other virtues in yourself and will be clothed in them as in armor, which will then protect you from all the arrows of passions. By nature our heart is full of good dispositions; but passions come and stifle them. These passions are not of equal strength in every person, but in one, one passion predominates, in another, another passion rules over the rest. As soon as you banish the chief passion, all the others grow weaker and recede by themselves. When this comes to pass, the good dispositions, freed from their yoke, acquire in you the strength natural to them and standing at the door of your heart, are always ready to serve you, whenever it is required.
I had a friend who used to tackle one sinful habit each Lent. Sometimes they would come back after Pascha had passed, but he would take up arms against them again at another time, and never let them win, even when he had not yet overcome them. This is often the way it goes in our lives.
Brothers and sisters, we’ve come to this spiritually beautiful Sunday dedicate to the memory of our mother among the saints, Mary of Egypt, the model of repentance. Let us look to her love of virtue, her love of repentance, her love for our Lord and address our own sins with even the smallest measure of her zeal.