When I was young I had to take a lot of IQ tests for different reasons. They got me into certain schools and programs. Throughout that time, though, I didn’t fully understand what an IQ test was. I knew it tested my intelligence, but that was about it.

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve learned more about it. IQ is short for “intelligence quotient”. These tests measure a person’s reasoning ability. There are many different types of intelligence in the world, but this test specifically assesses how well someone can use information and logic to answer questions and make predictions.

For a long time I thought that this sort of intelligence was hardwired into you at birth. I thought that it was completely determined by genes. If you had smart parents, then you would be smart as well. It turns out that this is only partially true.

Genes make a substantial difference in our cognitive ability, but they only account for about half of all differences in intelligence among people. The other half is determined by environmental factors. I came across this information while reading about a study performed on adopted twins. Twins share 100% of the same DNA, so are genetically identical. If genes were the only factor in IQ, twins should have the same IQ. When twins were adopted to different families, it was found that after some time with these adoptive parents, the children adopted into homes with adoptive parents of a higher IQ had higher IQs themselves in comparison to their twin adopted into homes with adoptive parents of a lower IQ.

When I learned about this study (as well as a few others like it), I was definitely surprised. There are some things that I just picture as being true from birth; they’ll never change. Sometimes when I am being very hard on myself, I see my sins in this light. When I am feeling low, I will sometimes think to myself, “I am a horrible sinner and that is all I will ever be.” I feel like this is just how I was born and there is nothing in this life that can change that.

It's true that all of us were born with original sin. It is true that all of us have a tendency towards sin. But those are not the only things that are true. It is also true that God made us and called us good. It is true that God gave us the gift of the sacrament of confession because He believes in us and our ability to grow and become better.

There are many Saints who have proven this to be true. One of my favorites is Moses the Black (not the Moses from the Bible). This Moses was a part of a band of robbers. With Moses as their leader, Moses and his gang committed many evil deeds, both robberies and murders. After a failed attempt at a robbery, he was fleeing the authorities and hid in a monastery. While there, he could tell there was something different here. He repented and begged the monks to accept him as one of their own. It took a while, but eventually they truly believed his repentance to be real and accepted him into their order. Moses spoke with one of his fellow monks about how he still felt the desire for evil, he was still tempted, but in this community he was stronger and better able to resist those urges.

Moses the Black is a fantastic example of how much our environment can make a difference. The beautiful monastery and the people he surrounded himself with made such a difference on his way of life helping him to grow in virtue. Of course, he is a very extreme example. I don’t expect that you are a murderer, but each of us are sinners, and at least some of that has to do with the environment that we put ourselves in. Take a second and ask yourself: “What does your environment look like? Is this environment and the people in it helping you toward heaven or not?”

During Lent we give something up. After you’ve taken a good long hard look at your environment, the things around you, I’d like you to honestly think about which things draw you closer to Jesus and which ones don’t. Then I’d ask you to consider choosing one of the things that don’t and make that what you give up for Lent. Ask God for help, “Lord, what in my life that surrounds me each day is pulling me away from you? Help me to see this for what it is and help me to have the strength and courage to let it go so that I may grow closer to you during this season of Lent. Amen.”

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