We Catholics are in the midst of a liturgical season called “Lent”, the “long days”. This forty day season leading up to Easter is a time of fasting and prayer, a time of renewal and conversion in preparation for the highest feast. It is modeled after the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before he began his ministry. It is a reminder that we do not seek our fulfillment in this world, but in the happiness that heaven offers.
To Be Clean
When I was younger, I hated bathing. It took time out of my day, my plans, my activities. The formula was: Trouble > Benefits.
Now I see showering as an easy relaxation, something I use in the evenings to wind down and prepare for sleep. Even more than that, I like to be clean. So now the formula is Benefits > Trouble.
Benefits > Trouble
For this to happen, my idea of bathing had to undergo a radical change. Either the trouble got smaller or the benefits got bigger. Trouble becomes less important as we grow older. Things that seemed big, bad, and long eventually grow shorter until that’s all they are. Short.
The more impressive change is when benefits become more beneficial. This happens when you become more aware of the goodness of the benefit. In the case of showering, it’s not as though being clean is actually getting better. Instead, I just realized what being clean is and how important it had become to me.
Vicious cycle of uncleanness
This subjective growth of benefit is interesting. It highlights what a vicious cycle uncleanness is. If you are never clean, you never know what “to be clean” means. If you don’t know it, you can’t want it. If you don’t want it, you’ll never be clean.
As we adults know, it can be done! But it may take some work before we’re happy about it. Here’s the progression:
Form your sense of cleanness
Practice being clean
Soon, you will have formed a habit.
This growth of a good habit is a great analogy for gaining any type of virtue. Let’s concentrate just on spiritual cleanness.
First, we must form our sense of when we’ve done something wrong; this is called forming our consciences. When we do something wrong, we become spiritually unclean. But how are we to know if we have not developed that sense of right and wrong, spiritual health and spiritual sickness? How are we to prioritize being good (for the sake of being happy), if we do not pay attention to the difference between good and bad and to what affect it has on us?
Once we have formed our consciences and we can tell when we’re not clean, we seek a spiritual cleansing. We Catholics believe this can come about through the Church in a Sacrament called “Penance”, “Confession” or “Reconciliation”. Like showering, it can be hard at first. You can (and do) come up with many objections. But, like showering, it helps you feel even more clearly the difference between being clean and being dirty. You eventually come to see that the alternative is worse and the result subjectively better.
Here, we see that a previously vicious cycle becomes helpful. As you form your conscience, going to Confession becomes easier. As you go to Confession, your conscience becomes more mature and formed. God takes what seems like an impossible situation and makes it an instrument for healing.