“Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

Today’s first reading from 1 Samuel (15:16-23) tells the story of the beginning of the end of King Saul’s reign.  Instructed earlier (in verse 3) by God through Samuel to spare no living thing under Amalek, Saul, after routing the Amalekites, spares their king’s life and all “worthwhile” livestock.  Now we are at the point where Samuel, having been alerted by God to Saul’s disobedience goes to meet him.  Samuel confronts Saul with Saul’s sin, Saul tries to justify it by claiming (dubiously — see v. 12) that his sparing of animals was for the purpose of providing sacrifice to the Lord but Samuel tells Saul the words at top just before relaying that God has rejected Saul as king.

This is a particularly good reading in the run-up to Lent (it is not too early to think about it!).  Although this has changed somewhat in recent years, our tendency still is to think of Lent as a time of sacrifice — which in most minds means “giving up something.”  But whether your intended sacrifice for Lent is not doing something you like to do or doing something extra you don’t normally do, it is worthwhile to be mindful of Samuel’s words to Saul at top.  What should we give up for Lent?  What does the Lord want us to give up first and foremost?  It isn’t chocolate or coffee or TV or Facebook or whatever.  It is sin that he wants eliminated.  And not just for Lent (although what better time to begin a change for the rest of our lives?).  So give up chocolate if you like, but also give up gluttony — for good.  Give up TV and then vow to eliminate procrastination and laziness from this point forward.  That is, hit hard those “comfortable” sins and vices by turning to their opposite virtues (Dante is of great help here):

Sin Virtue
Lust (excessive sexual appetites) Chastity (purity)
Gluttony (over-indulgence) Temperance (self-restraint)
Greed (avarice) Charity (giving)
Sloth (laziness/idleness) Diligence (zeal/integrity/labor)
Wrath (anger) Forgiveness (composure)
Envy (jealousy) Kindness (admiration)
Pride (vanity) Humility (humbleness)

Of particular help will be to begin Lent with a well-examined conscience followed by the Sacrament of Confession which must conclude with a sincere Act of Contrition.  All sacraments provide grace (they are the ordinary means, ordained by Jesus, to do so).  Take advantage of it often, as we are bound to stumble.  But upon stumbling don’t give up but resolve even more firmly to strive to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

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