Lent is a good time to work on our character. We all have those little aspects of our personality that plague us. If only I could be less jealous, prone to lying, proud, angry, etc. If only I could be more caring, faithful, generous, patient, and the list goes on. It can be so frustrating! We work on our faults, only to find that once again we have fallen back into the muck of our own sinfulness.
Yet, Lent invites us once again to fight the good fight. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote a wonderful article on “Emergence of Character.” (It is included in “From the Angel's Blackboard,” a compilation of his work.) In it, Sheen tells us that we can actually use our faults as stepping stones to sanctity. We can't do it alone, however. We need to pray for God's grace.
Sheen offers a four-step process to overcome our strongest faults:
1)Ask God in prayer to help us be aware of our faults and to give us the strength to conquer the sin.
2)Examine one's conscience daily.
3)Perform a penance every time you succumb to the fault.
4)Turn your weakness into your strength.
Sheen also offers encouragement for those times when we do give into our faults. As he states, “We can fall down and get up; or we can fall down and stay there. . . Sometimes, in the case of a continued weakness, it is well to count not only the falls, but to count also the number of times a temptation to do wrong was overcome.”
This attitude has great value, not only in working on our own faults, but also in helping our children work on theirs. In some ways, our children's faults are more glaring to us than our own. It is always easier to see that speck in your brother's eye, isn't it? In addition, we tend to see these young people as reflections of ourselves. The fault that we overlook when we look in the mirror seems magnified one-hundred fold when it comes out in our children. Still, as parents, we do have that responsibility to help our children work on their faults.
Focusing on the progress that they are making instead of all the times that they fail can help both them and us realize that they are moving in the right direction. As parents, sometimes it is so hard to see the progress (especially when in the midst of sibling battle or temper tantrum #422). Sometimes we have to force ourselves to notice the good. Praying with our children for the weaknesses in their character, teaching them to tell God that they are sorry when they fail and to go to confession if they are old enough, and praising them when they do succeed in overcoming temptation are good steps to take to weed out those blemishes. It is important to have high standards for our children, to expect them to try to be all that God wants them to be. It is also important for our children to know that, like God, we will always forgive them and encourage them to get up and try again.
It is good for our children to see us working on our faults as well. Children learn by our example more than we can ever know and they are very aware of our shortcomings. If they see us struggle and fail and try again and ultimately succeed, this will be more a more powerful lesson than anything we could say. In addition, those faults we triumph over can indeed end up being the strongest part of our character.