Although Lent is winding to a close, there is still plenty of time to work on the many bad habits that hurt our relationship with the Lord. If you were to make even the smallest progress overcoming one of your bad habits, then your Lent would be a success. While God never expects us to overcome our imperfections by ourselves, He does expect us to take the first step and try to fight against these tendencies. Here are 5 bad habits that, if not controlled, will keep you from growing closer to Christ. Are they the worst ones in the world? Maybe or maybe not, but every one of these tendencies will keep you from being the best Catholic you can be.
1. Anger – Despite the Lord’s repeated warnings, we often feel justified getting angry with others on a daily basis. Anger can be lethal to our spiritual lives and should be high on our list of faults to eliminate this Lent. How can we overcome it? With lots of prayer, receiving the Sacraments and by reading (and re-reading) the Lord’s words:
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt 5:21-22)
2. Impatience – Although this fault is more subtle than anger, it can be very destructive to our spiritual lives. St. Paul tells us that “love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4) and to “be patient with them all” (1 Thess 5:14), but we tend to lose sight of this when someone doesn’t move fast enough or disagrees with us. Let’s face it, we get annoyed with others several times each day, despite the fact that God is ALWAYS patient with us. For many years, I was a lukewarm, apathetic Catholic who’s purpose in life was to have a good time. By the grace of God, I’m still here and so are you. We should work on becoming more patient while we still have time. As a word of warning, if you pray to become more patient, expect people to pop up in your life who will give you PLENTY of practice!
3. Worry – Often we think of worry as something that’s inevitable. Many people have told me that “everyone worries”. I disagree. I’ve met people who, although they experience fear and even anxiety, don’t worry. Why? Because they have a deep trust in God. This is going to be painful to hear, but when we worry, we tell God that we don’t trust Him. Even though He tells us in Scripture that “all things work for the good” (Rom 8:28), we sometimes worry about events that are happening or MAY happen in our lives. Citing the previous Bible verse in his book Uniformity With God’s Will, St. Alphonsus Liguori stated that if God sends us suffering, it’s for our own good. After proclaiming the famous “Let not your hearts be troubled” (Jn 14:1), Jesus told us to believe in God and to believe in Him. Do we?
4. Lack of Charity – In our zeal to spread the “Good News” of our Faith, we sometimes overlook the need to do it WITH CHARITY. I’ll defer to Sts. Peter and Paul, who make the point more effectively than I ever could:
Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pt 3:15)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
5. Over Sensitivity To Criticism – We sometimes try harder to please others than to please Christ. Many of us “like to be liked” and that desire can sometimes get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. Today’s world is not very friendly to Catholicism and the message of Jesus Christ. When we live and share our faith, we can expect to be criticized. In fact, the Lord told us exactly what would happen when He said “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mk 13:13). A bitter pill to swallow, right? Maybe, until we hear what He says next. “But he who endures to the end will be saved”! As we continue to travel the road to heaven, we should strive to make all of our actions pleasing to Jesus. As long as we do that, we’re in great shape!
If you’re like me and can identify with more than one of these bad habits, don’t panic! Pick one of them and make up your mind to use the remainder of Lent to work on it. Above all, don’t forget to ask the Lord for the grace needed to improve. Also, make it a point to receive additional grace through the Sacrament of Confession. Once you begin to see good progress (and you will, if you keep at it), tackle another one and keep going. While working on our bad habits should be a year round pursuit, Lent is a great time to get started. When we start to attack our faults like this, Jesus begins to increase (in us) and we begin to decrease (Jn 3:30). Ultimately, we’ll be able to echo the words of St. Paul and proclaim:
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)