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demolition scene

Lenten Demolition of Sin

February 23, 2024


In Word on Fire’s Chicago office, my coworkers and I have been driven to distraction lately. If you spent a few minutes in the office, you would see people leaving their cubicles to get up and stare out the window. You would see people pointing and hear the outburst of excited shouts. Once in a while, you might even feel the entire building slightly shaking.

No, this is not the beginning of a Godzilla movie, and we are not in any danger.

We have all been openly gaping at the ongoing demolition of the two adjacent buildings in our office park. We have a front-row seat to the meticulous destruction of these 2000s-era, structurally sound, multilevel office buildings that will soon make way for new one-story buildings to house data processing centers. And what a process it is!

As the demolition has unfolded over the past several weeks, I have been struck by how slowly and particularly the wrecking crew is going about its work. My uninformed compulsion would be to sprinkle a few sticks of dynamite throughout the two buildings, pop some popcorn, start the countdown, and watch them fall. Instead, the first week of action saw just one segment of one building taken down. They even took the time to individually break each one of the windows in the building before the wrecking ball began swinging.

And the wrecking ball, while powerful, is not having the easiest time breaking through the concrete and metal walls of these relatively new buildings. Once it does, the demolition is put on hold again, as construction trucks move in to clean up the colossal mess on the ground in the wrecking ball’s wake.

There is no dynamite solution for our sinful tendencies.

And so we’ve all been riveted to this slow and steady process, hoping to be looking out the window at the right time to watch in awe as the wrecking ball satisfyingly hits its mark and a particularly large chunk of the building hits the ground in a cloud of dust—making our own building literally shudder at the thought of such a fate.

Since I work for Word on Fire and we are now in the heart of Lent, I can’t help but turn this demolition project into a spiritual metaphor.

As we engage in the Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we are hopefully examining the blueprints of our lives and finding those structurally unsound areas that would best be visited by the wrecking ball of spiritual mortification.

Rooting out sin is a difficult and arduous process that often has to be as staged and slow as the demolition of these buildings. Unfortunately, there is no dynamite solution for our sinful tendencies. The best we can do is more frequently avail ourselves of God’s unending mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but if you’re anything like me, you’re quickly traipsing back to the confessional, getting déjà vu as you confess a frustratingly similar list of transgressions.

So what can we do to make our Lenten demolition more destructive (in a good way) so that it clears space for the new construction of positive habits and Christ-centered living? Here are a few ideas.

Check your foundation

Everyone from the Big Bad Wolf to the wise man who built his house upon a rock knows the importance of a strong foundation for solid construction. So, too, goes your spiritual life.

What is at the heart of your faith? Do you go to Mass every Sunday? Do you have a personal prayer life? These are two basic building blocks upon which so much more can come to rest. If there is a crack in your personal foundation of faith, Lent is the perfect time to challenge yourself to set things right.

Once you have the basics covered, can you extend yourself to attend Daily Mass once in a while or even just saying a Rosary on your commute? How about picking up a Holy Hour to spend more time with the Lord in silent prayer? If you need to fight the ever-present excuses of being busy and having no time, make yourself a Lenten commitment to take on a new spiritual practice, and perhaps it will evolve into a habit.

Break all the windows

What are the windows in your life that need breaking? Which windows are you looking through to view the people around you with envy, disdain, mistrust, lust, or hatred? Which windows are showing you your own distorted reflection and leading you to arrogance, self-loathing, loneliness, insecurity, or despair? Break ’em all.

So much of our unhappiness and sin comes from viewing the world and ourselves through our broken, human eyes. While we will never see perfectly through the eyes of God, we can still take steps to eliminate distractions and cut through the evil one’s lies that lead us to unhealthy comparisons, destructive judgments, and straight-up sinful behavior.

Lenten fasting can help us trim this “fat” from our minds and our souls. For me, this means logging off of social media and literally putting the phone in another room when I get home from work. I’ve been on Facebook for almost twenty years, and while I like to reassure myself with the benefits of keeping in touch and sharing baby pictures, social media has been diabolically designed and scientifically proven to alter your brain chemistry. The consequences of low self-esteem, fear of missing out, and the desire to share only your perfect, curated life far outweigh the positives.

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On the other end of the spectrum, the Litany of Humility is the perfect sledgehammer to smash an inflated ego down to size. If you haven’t had the chilling experience of reading each petition in the litany and being utterly convicted by it, Lent is a great time to try it. The five minutes you spend praying it will be much more productive than the twenty minutes you would otherwise spend scrolling your Instagram feed.

Don’t fear the wrecking ball

Change is hard and turning away from sin is even harder. But sometimes you just have to break out the wrecking ball. If you have destructive addictions, toxic relationships, or unhealthy habits that are affecting your relationship with God and others, it’s time for a Lenten intervention.

These vices affect the integrity of the entire structure, and so the wrecking ball must work swiftly and decisively. As these negative aspects of our lives fall to the ground—perhaps even painfully—the promise of who we are meant to be will remain and space will be created for us to begin to see ourselves as God sees us. To further extend this already stretched metaphor, we can integrate the “new construction” of holier people and practices into our lives, trusting that Christ will work in our hearts to make all things new.

Clean up the work site

The most boring day to look out the window at the construction site is the day after some major action has occurred. The wrecking ball is parked off to the side as the bulldozers, grabbers, and dump trucks move in to fill countless dumpsters with the remains of the previous day’s demolition. Where a gleaming office once stood, a chaotic pile of rubble remains, revealing the building’s ugly innards—concrete, dry wall, steel beams, and insulation.

The sudden demolition brought on by Lenten prayer and fasting is invigorating, but it can leave a big, tedious cleanup job in its wake: namely, the ongoing commitment to holiness. It would be unrealistic to think that the forty days of a Lent well spent can instantly turn you into a saint and completely root out longstanding sinful tendencies—but this is how God’s grace begins to work in our lives. Our cooperation with that grace will help us clear away the rubble of sin, even if it takes a while.

Watching this demolition process has been a lesson in precision, patience, and structural integrity. It’s slow to get started, but once all the windows are broken and the wrecking ball starts swinging, each subsequent step of the demo process is faster and more effective, until pretty soon the entire building is down, the ground is clear, and something new can be built in its place.

I pray that we can all use this holy season to begin demolishing our own imperfections and start new habits in our pursuit of holiness. The Master Builder has big plans for us.