By Fr. Anthony Aneke
Just few days ago, my friend Kevin passed out from NYSC. I was so happy for him. He was such a bosom friend. And so, in the euphoria of the moment, we decided to hang out that very evening in a side bar. I place an order of a cold Heineken drink. That’s my favourite, you know. He equally did. The cold drink was so good. In just a moment, I ordered for a second and then the third. I was about to order the fourth when I remembered I made a resolution to give up any form of alcohol for lent. I was horrified. I felt so bad. It is just the second week of lent. Why couldn’t I maintain such a simple resolution? I am here to tell you Father that I have already failed my Lenten commitment. And I have this deep rooted fear that this experience will affect other Lenten resolution I have made. Please bear with me when that happens. “I cannot come and kill myself”
SS Peter and Paul, Ugbene
I perfectly understand how you feel about this experience. I mean, it had happened to me a number of times. The sense of “self guilt and defeat” that usually accompanies this experience is overwhelming especially when the sincerity of our resolution is very genuine. This experience is not peculiar to you; it faces all who sincerely strive towards Christian perfection during the Lenten season. Normally, we do not like to fail especially when we have made serious watertight plans to succeed. When that happens, it breaks our heart. We might even relapse. Believe me Uche, this is part and parcel of our daily struggle as Christians. I would want you to know that Lent is not simple. It is not meant to be. It is not “Catholic guilt” that makes it tough either. We should not discourage any sense of guilt that stems from the very heart of this season, which engenders penance and repentance. That sense of guilt and acknowledgment of our shortcomings are exactly what enables us to be coming closer to God in this time, which is the real goal in the end. However, I would want to share with you, a few tips that could help you make the best out of your Lenten journey.
Acceptance – come to terms with your ‘failure’.
Before you begin to work on any solution, you need to accept the problem. Failure is often very subjective because of the standards we set out for ourselves. Yes, you failed in your resolution to give up alcohol this Lenten season, but other personal resolutions haven’t collapsed because you have failed in one. And besides, your failure wasn’t a deliberate one. It was, as you said, “in the euphoria of the moment”. Believe me; the fear in you is merely psychological. I would want you to brace up and keep up with your resolutions. The failure of one is not the failure of all. And truly, there isn’t any failure if you really get up and learn that a lot can happen “in the euphoria of the moment”. For me, that is enough to make you strong. This experience has taught you to guard against the euphoria of the moment. If you actually do that, there is no need to be afraid about future failure. Accept the fact that this ‘failure’ cannot keep you down but makes you stronger to keep better your resolutions. I encourage you to continue giving up alcohol through this Lenten season. It is never late.
You might need to go to confession.
This might sound strange to you. The Sacrament of Confession is highly encouraged during Lenten season. Even if you have not committed a mortal sin, you are seeking healing from what you have done. It is important to point out to you that the Lord does not only forgive sins in the Sacrament of Confession, He also gives the spiritual strength and grace to conquer sin and any form of addiction. I want to believe that you gave up alcohol for a reason. Perhaps, you are trying to fight alcohol addiction. I am not sure anyway. But be that as it may, I want to tell you we cannot conquer addictions through our own conscious effort. Addictions are completely cured through the powerful graces of God. Therapists can tell you better. The sacrament of confession disposes our heart for the graces of God to fight addictions to the highest level. Avail yourself of this sacrament, and go on with your Lenten resolution. You are always a new person after confession. Make sure you don’t fail again.
Get back on your feet again
I want you to know that failure is only an illusion. You only fail if you try quitting. I am sure that’s not an option for you. It is true that God demands that we seek perfection (Matthew 5:43-48), but he knows we will have trouble. He knows how frail we are. Like a child who falls while learning to walk, you just get back and try again. Determination and perseverance is a long way.
Figure out what went wrong
I want you to think and ponder on the series of events that led you to the point of forgetting that you gave up alcohol for Lent. Yes, you are so happy with your friend. He just finished his NYSC Program. It is something to thank God for. Yes, it is something to be celebrated. Yes, but it mustn’t end up in a side bar. There are other possible ways to celebrate him. You can first of all spend time with him thanking God in the Blessed Sacrament for a few minutes. You can visit orphanages and give alms in gratitude to God. You could even go to restaurants to eat and take non-alcoholic drinks. Giving religious significance to our happy moments in life is highly recommended because such moments are highly prone to temptations. I want you to find out what needs to be avoided or modified in order to overcome the temptation. I want you to know that temptations come to us at such moment when we are so comfortable about life. When we are so happy, be on your guard, temptation might be knocking on your door.
Pray and give alms
This might seem obvious, but it is not. When we fail we often convince ourselves that the solution is to work harder. Prayer is what revives your soul and places you back on the right track with God’s perfect will. Remember, in prayer, to listen first and talk second. Lent is the perfect time to work on “me” and part of doing that right is the mission of blessing others. When we give alms, we do ourselves and others a great thing. Alms enable us to receive justifying grace, which is exactly what our soul needs when we fail.
Scripture tells us,
“by mercy and faith, sins and purges away” – proverb 16:6
“He that gives to the poor shall not want”. – Proverb 28:27
“Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms resist sins” – Sirach 3:30
The Context of Sacrifice is Love
Sacrifice is not easy, but we naturally do it for the ones we love. So the context of penance is love. “Giving up alcohol” becomes joyless and frustrating if it is not done within the context of love. You have to practice on this. Look at so many parents who sacrifice for their children and they would do it all day long out of love. For instance, the concept about my Father at home while growing up is a big daddy who is always satisfied with whatever is set before him. Sometimes he goes to bed at night without eating. I would think that Daddy is a grown up. And ‘grown-ups’ aren’t hungry all the time. In fact, they can do without food. Now I realize that Daddy had to give up eating and pretend that he is ok when food is not enough in the house just for the children to feed well and be comfortable. While he was starving, big daddy pretended that all was well. Good Parenting demands a huge amount of sacrifice.
Uchenna, think about alcoholics who have destroyed their families because of their addictions; think about children who had lost hope in life just because they were brought into the world by alcoholics who couldn’t take of them; have you ever tried to ascertain the percentage of ailments and recorded deaths in Nigeria due to the abuse of alcohol. You will just shudder.
Giving up alcohol makes a lot of sense when you offer them to God as a sacrifice in order to intervene in these predicaments enumerated. Sacrifice is love. Sacrifice summarizes the whole gamut of love. In fact, there is a group called the “ The Pioneers”. The individuals in this group gave up alcohol for life and committed themselves to praying for alcohol addicts. It does make sense. I am not expecting you to join them anyway. I just want you to know that there are people who go extra mile. Our Lenten observance is not just individualistic. It should be all encompassing. We give up things during the Lenten season not just for us but basically for others.
In giving up something, we become more aware of the sacrifice of Christ for us.
Sacrifice during Lenten period reminds us that it is all about creating a discipline – a practice to be free from the things that seem a necessity, but they aren’t. We practice to be better – to be holier. It gives us the discipline to stop bad habits and pick up holier ones. Most especially, it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our sins and acknowledge more what Jesus has done for us on the Cross.
What if you fail again?
I pray it doesn’t happen to you again but what if it happens. I want you to understand that Lenten sacrifice is not about competing to see who has the biggest penance or who has the greatest endurance of self-denial. No. The goal is to encourage us all that even when we fall and fail, we can try again and again. That’s the practice of discipline to become better. Remember, only when we cease to rely on our own strength can we discover that the power of God is also with us.
Spend more time in prayer. Practice patience. Love more and be charitable. Read spiritual books especially the lives of the Saints. If you can go to mass daily, that would be perfect. Go to confessions too.
I wish you a wonderful journey towards holiness this Lenten season and the whole year. Never stop trying.