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Aug 28, 2020 63 0 Father Joseph Gill
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Q&A: On Breaking the Habit of Sin

Question: I find that I struggle with the same sins over and over. As much as I confess them and try to change, I find myself falling into them again. What can I do to break out of a stubborn habit of sin?

Answer: It can be frustrating to confess the same sins over and over again. But, as a priest once told me, it is good that you are not coming up with new sins!

The Australian Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly says, “Our lives will change when our habits change.” This is very true! If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always recieved. So what practical steps can we do to get out of a spiritual rut?

First, work on your prayer life. The only thing stronger than sin is love. When we love Jesus more than we love our sin, we will be free from our sin. I knew a man who had a particularly strong addiction. He was starting to despair, but in desperation cried out to the Blessed Mother. He felt her saying to his soul, “When you have prayed one Rosary for every occasion you fell into that sin, you will be free.” He thought, “Woah, that’ll be a lot of Rosaries!” But he got started, and as his love for God and the Blessed Mother grew, he was slowly, slowly freed from the addiction!

Second, implement fasting. Human beings are made of both body and soul. In the beginning, God intended the body (with its passions, emotions, senses, and desires) to be under control of the soul (with our intellect showing us what is truly good, and our free will choosing it). But because of original sin, our body rebels against the soul and so often it takes control! How many times have we vowed not to fall into gossip but we find it too juicy to resist; how often have we almost-automatically grabbed that extra donut or hit that snooze button? Saint Paul instructs us that “the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17).

So the key to overcoming our body’s natural rebellion is to strengthen the will. We do that through fasting. By giving up a chocolate bar, it becomes easier to give up a sin. By denying ourselves a second helping, we become stronger and can deny ourselves an illicit pleasure. We give up something good so that it becomes easier to give up something evil. Our free will is like a muscle—when it is exercised, it grows stronger. Choose some sort of voluntary mortification every day, and you will find that your self-mastery will grow.

Third, we should study and exercise the opposite virtue from our sin. If we find ourselves struggling with anger, read Scripture quotes about peacefulness, or engage in Catholic meditation. If lust is our stubborn sin, pursue chastity and study the Theology of the Body. If we struggle with sins of the tongue, read James chapter 3 and practise holding back imprudent words. Grow in the opposite virtue, and the sin will disappear.

Finally, do not ever give up! My Dad always said, “Discouragement is from the devil!” God often allows us to struggle so that we grow in humility, recognizing that we need Him. Trust in His mercy, and even if it takes a lifetime, keep working on overcoming that stubborn sin! If you take Him into partnership, He will win the victory in your life!

Father Joseph Gill

is a high school chaplain and serves in parish ministry. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Gill has published several albums of Christian rock music (available on iTunes). His debut novel, “Days of Grace” is available on amazon.com.

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