Column: This Lent, root out the idols in your life

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

For a good portion of my life, I always dreaded the arrival of Lent.

It was a time of depriving myself of some of the things I most enjoyed. However, in more recent years, I have come to look forward to Lent as a time when I feel a great sense of communal support to free myself from some of my self-imposed enslavements.

Many years ago, I remember seeing a poster that said: “He is rich who desires little.” At first, I thought this to be a foolish saying that promoted mediocrity. However, as I pondered it more deeply, it became clear to me that the author was not advocating to demand or expect little of oneself, but instead was praising the virtue of simplicity.

In other words, a person is rich who is able to experience delight in the simple beauties and comforts of ordinary daily life. Such a person is going to find more enjoyment in life than the person who has grown callous to everyday beauty and demands more glitz and pizzazz in order to be impressed.

I was reminded of this while viewing a little bit of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games. It appears there is another competition besides that on the slopes or the skating arena. It seems that each host nation feels an obligation to make the opening and concluding ceremonies even more spectacular than the previous one.

The same observation could be made about the halftime program at the Super Bowl. Each year, there appears to be an effort to make the halftime program more extravagant and more over the top (not even to mention less family-friendly) than previous ones.

We live in a time of great innovation in technology. We seem to require more and more to entertain us. Many feel a need to have the most updated technology for our phones, computers, televisions, and home entertainment theaters. In misguided expressions of love for our children, we get them addicted to believing they need the latest toy, gadget, phone or fashion.

Lent is a time in our Catholic community where we are given the much-needed permission to simplify our lives. It is a time to remind ourselves
of all the things — alcohol, sweets, late-night snacks, television, computer games, etc. — that we do not need to make us happy. Truth be told, if we develop a dependency on them, then they actually diminish our capacity for happiness.

Lenten fasting can be and should be a liberating experience. What helps us succeed during these six weeks, as opposed to our well-meaning New Year’s resolutions, is the communal support that we receive. There is real power in fasting as a community on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays. Moreover, we sense solidarity with the larger Catholic community with even the additional personal “penances” that we choose to do.

At the beginning of Lent, we should ask ourselves the question: What are the idols in my life? At first, you might object that idols are a thing of the past, of ancient pagan cultures. However, if we define an idol as anything that we value more than our relationship with God, then we will quickly recognize there are numerous modern American idols.

Once again, I have asked all of our parishes during the Wednesdays of Lent (with the exception of Ash Wednesday) to provide the opportunity for the sacrament of penance/reconciliation from at least 6 to 7 p.m. Every Catholic should go
to sacramental confession some time during the Lenten season.

In order to make a good confession, it is important to make a good examination of conscience, a thorough review of your life, identifying wherever sin may be present. One very simple, but also revealing way to examine your conscience is to ask yourself the question: What do I value more than God? Or posed another way: What do I choose to spend time on instead of participating in the Eucharist or spending time in personal prayer?

One of our idols may even be other human relationships. We may discover that in the name of friendship or love, we are actually using another person to make ourselves happy. We may even think that we need this other person to be happy. Certainly, we should derive enjoyment from family relationships and good, holy friendships. Yet, authentic love is not using another to make ourselves happy, but rather striving to do what we can for the good of the one we love.

I encourage you as we prepare to begin the Lenten season to pray over the question: What are the idols in my life? Ask the Lord to reveal to you what things
or persons you value more than your relationship with him? Experience the liberation of no longer having to spend time with your idols.

As you empty your life of some of your false gods, fill it with more time for reading the Bible, personal prayer, eucharistic adoration, daily Mass and acts of true love.

Once we begin to become free from our idols, we begin to notice how much beauty is already present in our lives. We begin to find the capacity to delight in the ordinary. In our human relationships, we begin to use others less to please ourselves and we find a greater capacity to love others — seeking their good rather than our enjoyment.

Enjoy Lent!

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