A friend recently asked me, “How do you help your kids to examine their consciences?” We talked about formal examinations of conscience, about discussions regarding the events of the day, and about our own shortcomings. Yet, some piece was missing.

Other friends admit that they feel as I do -- that we rarely make progress in overcoming our own sins and that we often feel stuck in bad behaviors. I joke that I should just play a tape recording of my previous confession for my priest. He probably gets tired of hearing me say the same thing over and over again.

Let’s look at this another way. Our sins are just bad habits and the rule about overcoming bad habits is to replace each one with a good habit.

Our family friend, Cameron, is a good example of this theory put into practice. He describes his former self as overweight and without any real direction. He did have a desire to go into the military forces so he joined the Naval Sea Cadets in high school and it changed his life. He began to train and push himself physically and lost a lot of weight. He also joined the wrestling team at school. He gained discipline and clear goals. Today, he is a wonderful young man who has just signed up with the army. He has goals, dreams and a lot of good habits have replaced his old ones.

To put this idea into action in our spiritual lives we need to know what the serious sins and opposite virtues are.

Sin                                     Opposite Virtue

Pride                                       Humility

Greed                                     Charity

Anger                                      Patience

Envy                                        Kindness

Lust                                         Chastity

Gluttony                                  Temperance

Sloth                                        Diligence

Every near occasion of sin is an opportunity for strengthening a virtue in us. For example: My daughter is having a meltdown, screaming at me about her missing hairbrush. Rather than giving in to the anger I feel, I can practice the virtue of patience. I can recognize my own temptation to sin and react in much the same way my daughter is behaving, or I can help her look for the hairbrush (even though a hundred other things need my attention).

One Lenten season we practiced our virtues by making up cards to review at bedtime. On one side we listed the sins we are most likely to fall into. For me, they were definitely anger and pride. Then on the reverse side we listed the opposite virtue we would need to work on. Having a positive to practice in place of the negative aided in overcoming the bad habits.