One of the things that gets people down the most when they are really trying to make spiritual progress is when they keep falling into the same sin over and over again.
We’re sorry. We think we’re not going to do it again.
Then we do.
We’re filled with guilt, regret and shame.
It’s easy to want to give up.
We get frustrated and tell ourselves its not really a sin anyway or if it is it’s not serious.
Here are twelve things to remember if you if you keep falling into the same sin.
1. Perfection is the work of a lifetime.
Did you think you were going to become a saint overnight? This is a problem with us Americans. We like the instant fix, the painless solution and the easy way out. Pope St John Paul II said, “Chastity is the work of a lifetime”. Nothing great ever comes easily. Becoming a saint is like becoming an Olympic athlete or a concert pianist. It doesn’t happen quickly.
2. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Yes, by all means set a high standard. Don’t be too easy on yourself, but also don’t be tough on yourself. If you continue trying then you’re doing the right thing. It’s an old cliche, but it’s true: “It doesn’t matter how often you fall. It matters how often you get up.” As long as you’re still on the path and getting up it doesn’t matter that much if you stumble.
3. Be objective about your problem.
The amount of guilt and shame you feel is not necessarily a precise indicator of the seriousness of the sin. We tend to feel more guilty and ashamed of the sins of the flesh because they are so dangerous and seem so dirty. Your lack of prayer or your disrespect of other people may be more serious than the sins you are very ashamed of. Your pride and arrogance may be more of a spiritual block than the sins of the flesh. This is not to excuse sins of the flesh, but the emotions of guilt and shame we feel about them sometimes blocks awareness of other sins that do not make us feel ashamed. Be objective in your examination of conscience and don’t wallow in your guilt and shame. Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get going to the confessional and trust in God’s mercy.
4. Get clear about mortal and venial sin.
For it to be mortal sin it has to be grave matter. That means it has to be a serious sin, which by its very nature cuts you off from God’s love. Secondly, you have to know it is a mortal sin and there has to be an element of deliberation and decision about it. You have to say, “I know this is a grave sin, but I’m going to do it anyway.” When you stumble and fall keep that in mind. If you do commit a mortal sin simply turn to God immediately and make a true act of contrition. If you do this with the intention of going to confession as soon as you can, you are on the path back to God.
5. Habitual sin sometimes has deep psychological roots.
This doesn’t let you off the hook, but it does mean that your culpability or guilt could be lessened. If you suffer from a genuine addiction problem and can’t overcome a particular sin go and get some professional help. Therapists and counsellors can assist you in finding the root cause of the addiction. If you can’t quit a particular sin you may have an addiction problem. Lots of people do without realizing it or else they deny it. Think it through. You might need some extra help. That’s okay. You don’t mind going to the dentist for tooth decay. Don’t be ashamed to go to a priest if you have soul decay.
6. Take the deliverance ministry seriously.
If you are trapped in a particular sin you may be oppressed by an evil spirit. When I say “evil spirit” I don’t necessarily mean a demon. It could be an evil spirit of a human origin–a traumatic memory, a poisonous relationship from the past or some unknown diabolical or humanly evil factor. If you feel there is an evil spirit dimension to your problem use simple prayer and fasting therapy. Keep Fridays as a fasting day and focus on the Lord’s prayer as a deliverance prayer. If need be ask a local priest for prayers of deliverance when you go to confession. Be careful though because many priests are not familiar with this ministry. You might have to search for the right one.
7. Understand how temptation works.
First there is the thought that you might do a particular thing. Then comes the surge of desire. Then comes a stronger urge in which you argue with yourself. By then it’s too late. Resist the temptation as soon as the thought comes to you. Remember the deliverance ministry and do a self deliverance. Rebuke Satan and you can even say out loud, “Go away Satan.”
8. Use sacramentals.
The St Benedict medal, the scapular, the rosary, the Sacred Scriptures–all these are weapons in the spiritual battle. Learn how to wield them and use them actively.
9. Pray that you will see the sin for what it really is.
You will not rid yourself of the sin until you are truly disgusted by it. Imagine being addicted to bacon cheeseburgers. You will only kick the habit when you get to the point where you see a picture of a bacon cheeseburger and say, “Ughhh! Why would I want to eat that greasy lump of dead animal stuck between that gooey bun dripping with that revolting ketchup?” So pray that your desires will be purified and you will be attracted to all that is beautiful, good and true.
10. Find a good confessor and stay with him.
The serious penitent returns to the confessor and builds a relationship so he can see that progress is being made. If your parish priest isn’t that person find one who is and value him. He’ll help you overcome the sins that keep troubling you.
11. Don’t give up.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Don’t tell yourself that your sin is not a sin. That way destruction lies. Instead face up to the sin and keep up with the struggle. It’s the beautiful struggle! Don’t give up!
12. Remember God is on your side.
Too many Catholics are on some kind of weird guilt trip as if God is in the business of watching people so he can give them a smack when they get out of line. Believe me. God is in exactly the opposite business. “God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” (Jn 3:17) Will you try to get it into your head that God is looking for every opportunity to forgive you–not for every opportunity to condemn you? He is not willing for any to perish. Take heart.