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If you want a safe voyage here on earth, and then to the hereafter, watch that first thought. Watch the first impulses you have. Watch the first thing you want to think or do -- and don't hover over it until you have discerned it.

It's a real Lenten exercise: stepping back from the constant choices winged our way from angels and devils and our own subconscious (or concupiscence).

One way to step back? Say a Hail Mary, before allowing another thought in enter.

Step back from your first inclination. Any inclination. Mary even discerned the angel.

Reflect. Meditate as Mary reflected. Take a deep breath.

Step back, for example, from first thoughts of feeling puffed up. Step back from first thoughts of superiority. Step back from first thoughts of aggravation. Step back from jealousy or it will bite you back.

How many times during a typical day are you inclined to be aggravated or at least mildly disturbed with something or somebody? Isn't that a constant temptation? There are many reasons for disliking people and it is a test of life because it's a test of love.

Yet, life is too short for even a moment of agitation.

Often you have heard us discuss the power of forgiveness -- and the detriment of holding a grudge.

To love we must first forgive. When you don't forgive -- when you give into the inclination to dislike (and even hate) a person -- you step into that person's darkness.

Step back from anxiety.

It does you no good to fret over matters.

Reflect on your circumstances, then move on.

Anxiety is often the first sign (along with confusion) of evil.

Step back from pride. 

This is perhaps the true root of "all evil."

Think about it: pride inspires greed for money as well as many other transgressions that are not related to money itself (including using another for lust; one must have pride -- think one superior -- to do that).

Step back from lust:

When a sinful thought wings its way into your thought stream -- into your interior dialogue or visual imagination -- step back and expunge it before it takes root, which can be almost immediate.

We're not responsible for those first thoughts sent by the flesh or devil but we are responsible to allowing our minds to hover over them (enjoying the titillation). It's that second thought that gets us into trouble. And with three you are out.

"As long as we live in this world we cannot be fully without temptation, for, as Job says, the life of man upon earth is warfare," says the classic Imitation of Christ. "There is no man so perfect or so holy in this world that he does not sometimes have temptations, and we cannot be fully without them.

"He who merely flees the outward occasions and does not cut away the inordinate desires hidden inwardly in his heart shall gain little; temptation will easily come to him again and grieve him more than it did at first."

It's spring. Root evil inclinations out.  It's the time to notice weeds. It's time to clean house.

Step back, with prayer, from discouragement.

All day every day the devil tries to bring you down. Don't let him. His exhaust fume is despair. When a negative thought arrives, reject it. Toss away the "evil report." One negative grows another.

Step back from the inclination for money.

Material things are a great obstacle to the spiritual and you can not have it both ways.

Is it God or mammon?

Life is a tightrope between the two; beneath is a chasm.

Step back from criticism.

Do you whittle away time by finding fault with others? Do you get enjoyment by citing the negatives of neighbors? Nothing sweeps away grace quicker than judging others.

To God, even our thoughts count.

Step back from gluttony.

When the "munchies" try to take hold, cast them away and pray like Jesus in the desert.

Fast and you will suspend even the laws of nature.

Fast from all darkness and let the Light in.

Step back from competition.

Unless it's a game of fun, the Lord wants us to cooperate, not gnash our teeth at each other. "I love that person. I think well of that person," we should say when there is the temptation to do otherwise.

Step back from harsh language.

When we die, we are going to be amazed at how important "little" words and small conversations are to the Lord -- especially our tones of voice. Are we inclined to be abrupt? Do we raise our voices more than we think? Do we tend to bark and debate and argue? Are we condescending or braggarts?

Step back from whatever takes you away from the Sermon on the Mount and take the bad inclinations to the foot of the Cross (to be disposed according to the Will of the Father; cast them out!).

True grit. True Lent! Rid the ego. Be humble. It is your true strength because it is everlasting.

"Oh, if you saw the everlasting crowns of My saints in Heaven, if you saw in how great joy and glory they are who sometimes seemed to be despised in the world, you would soon humble yourself low to the ground," says Imitation, "and you would rather be subject to all men than to have authority over any one person."

[resources: The Imitation of Christ]

[Detroit area retreat, Michael Brown

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