The Church gives us the season of Lent to help us diagnose the soul sickness that affects every one of us to some degree or another. During Lent, the readings at Mass, our prayer, the penitential practices we are called to observe (fasting and abstinence) and the good works we are invited to perform (almsgiving) all help us to admit our sinfulness and to change from a self-centered way of life to lives of generous service.
A year ago, when I wrote about the season of Lent, I used some analogies. Here is how I described our need for healing and the special opportunities we are given during the season of Lent.
Every 3,000 miles or so, we change the oil in our car. There may not be any major problem with our engine. But slowly, over time, minor impurities have been building up. If we leave those impurities unattended, they will eventually result in major (and costly) problems.
Every once in a while, we move the furniture and vacuum behind our couch. If we don't get to it one week, it's no big deal. If we don't get to it the next week, it's no big deal. If we fail to move the couch and vacuum behind it for six months, it will be filthy.
We go to the doctor because we are troubled by symptoms. Based on the symptoms, and perhaps with some further observations and tests, the doctor diagnoses the underlying cause of our illness. Based on the underlying cause, the doctor prescribes a course of treatment--not just to eliminate the symptoms but to eliminate the root cause of the illness. If someone has a case of pneumonia and they only treat the symptoms (fever and a cough), the underlying cause of illness (an infection in the lungs) could kill him or her.
The same is true of our spiritual health. If we really want to get back to good health, we have to get at what's underneath the symptoms. Therefore, in order to be spiritually healthy we have to examine: 1) the symptoms of sin -- our overt sinful actions, 2) the underlying causes of sin -- the attitudes and habits of our heart, from which our actions spring, 3) the healing offered by Jesus, and 4) how the healing mission of Jesus is made available to us in the Church through the sacraments.
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