In any sporting event having a strong offense or defense is seldom enough to ensure a victory. If you run up the score on offense, but let the opponent do the same thanks to your weak defense, you’ll likely lose. In the same way, you can only win by scoring points, so having a strong defense isn’t enough. I’m learning that having a balanced approach to any problem is the key to success. This method is a timely resolution with the new year in the air.
Sin, even venial sin, is a terrible thing. Gabriel greeted Mary as “fullness of grace.” Her being was so full, so complete that sin couldn’t take root in her. This fullness was due to the grace of her Immaculate Conception. God permitted Mary to be His perfect vessel and thus preserved her from original sin. Each of us must grapple with original sin, and because of it, our choices tend towards sin.
Advent and Lent are both penitential seasons, calling us back to grace. We just completed the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Church offers us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These are just three of the countless opportunities that we have to leave sin behind. When you take advantage of any of these avenues of mercy, they are just the first step. We will always be recovering sinners. The question becomes, how do we best make use of this new beginning?
I’ve found that it’s important to let the scoreboard read zero. In any game, no matter how well the last game went, the score is always reset to zero. We sabotage our recovery, and even our joy, by continuing to beat ourselves up for past mistakes. Reconciliation is that great reboot. To continue to dwell on our previous failings is to be ungrateful. If God, through the ministry of the Church, has absolved you of your sins, have the courage to accept it.
You’ll need a plan that involves both offense and defense to take full advantage of this fresh start. I’d guess that we’re weaker on defense, so let’s start there. I see our daily prayer life as our defense. Prayer builds our immunity to sin, strengthens our love, and fills us with grace. The fuller we are, the less room there is for sin. What is a robust prayer life? To me, it’s not so much the components as it is the integration into your schedule. A good prayer life has you praying in a formal setting in the morning, during the daytime, and in the evening. This prayer time is when you'd pray the rosary, a series of devotionals, or even listen to praise music. Along with these formal settings, there should be trigger events. These triggers are mental reminders that you set for yourself to offer a brief prayer in your words. For example, you may offer your day up in the first moments of your morning. You may pray for some intention while cleaning or doing something particularly unpleasant. By combining the scheduled prayer along with individual events, the day takes on a rhythm. Every hour has you raising your mind to God. Good defense is developed and refined over time.
While defense may be the most challenging to design, offense requires the most courage. If a defense is your prayer life, an offense is your decision making. It requires that your conscience be well formed and prepared to make correct decisions. Offense is having the courage to do as we promise in the Act of Contrition. We pledge to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads us to sin. It’s a tall order, but one that is possible if we put in the work. To conquer sin, you have to have the courage to cut out anything in your life that’s leading you to sin. You may even find that which is tempting you is entirely benign, but is at the same time threatening your joy. After all, we are to live a life of true happiness, and sin disrupts that intention.
A good offense and defense are necessary to make lasting change in your spiritual life. It can be sobering to reflect on just how long (often years) you’ve struggled with a particular sin. Use that reality as the motivation behind your campaign of change. Work to cultivate your prayer life and watch it bear fruit. Excise those things in your life that lead you to sin. Persevere long enough, and you’ll find that sense of peace and joy that’s eluded you this entire time.