January 25, 2013

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Let go of personal desires and follow God’s will during Lent

Sean GallagherIt’s common to say that raising children enters a new phase of challenges when they enter the “terrible twos.”

That may be the case, but the “threes” aren’t much better.

If my 3-year-old son, Philip, doesn’t get his precise way in the smallest of desires, he’ll often throw a fit worthy of, well, a 3-year-old toddler.

The other night, I thought I saw smoke coming from his ears when my wife, Cindy, dared to put a little bit of catsup on his meatloaf at dinner.

Cindy and I know from the experience of raising Philip’s three older brothers that giving in to his ranting demands isn’t good for him or the family.

At the same time, we know that Philip often acts this way because he is discovering that he has a will.

Willfulness in a toddler may be frustrating to parents and their siblings, but shaping that will is important. When he grows up, I want Philip to have the strength of will to reject what is evil, even if it is popular, and to choose what is good, even if it is inconvenient.

But the fact that, at this stage in his life, Philip uses his will in a rather disordered way is a sign, it seems to me, of the sad ongoing effects of original sin.

Our first parents valued their own desires over the guidance given to them by God for their good. And history as a whole and the stories of our own lives show that this trend has continued.

When the Son of God came among us as Jesus Christ and suffered, died and rose again, he gave us the grace to overcome those effects of original sin, which our tradition describes as “concupiscence.”

But it is a daily struggle—and often a very arduous one—for us to cooperate with that grace to reject evil and choose the good. I know that all too well because, even though I’m 39 years older than Philip, I still tend to want things to go exactly as I want them to go just like he does.

Thankfully, I usually don’t throw a temper tantrum when my will gets thwarted.

Growing in detachment from our desires and whims is a part of growing in holiness.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to recognize holiness in other people when they show forth a serene contentment in situations that are definitely challenging.

That’s certainly the way that Jesus lived. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” he said to a scribe who wished to follow him (Mt 8:20).

It is natural for us to have material and emotional desires, even modest ones, for ourselves. But being a disciple of Jesus means acting like him. It means putting the will of our heavenly Father above any desire we have for ourselves.

God the Father desires us to place his will first in our lives not because he is self-centered. Actually, he is just the opposite. He wants us to keep his will first in our lives because that is the way for us to achieve the fulfillment and happiness for which he has destined us.

The start of Lent is in a little more than two weeks. Let this season of preparation for Easter be a grace-filled time in which you enter into prayer, fasting and almsgiving to let go of your own desires and, like Jesus ultimately did on the road to Calvary, place the will of our heavenly Father first in your heart. †

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