Dealing with Sin – A Pathway for Prayer in Advent

Dealing with Sin – A Pathway for Prayer in Advent

God wants to help us deal with sin but He waits for us to come to Him, to invite Him, to welcome Him. Advent is a time for doing just that. Opening our hearts to the Lord with contrition-filled prayer is the most important thing we can do to prepare for the joy of Christmas. Not to do so is to prefer to live in self-contradiction, a cold dark misery not worthy of human dignity.

To live in sin is a self-contradiction: it is to cleave to a word of doubt in our lives that stands against all that is truly human so that we permeate our culture with death and sew malice in our civilization. We are made to live in the truth with integrity, that spiritual harmony with God, the world and ourselves. Sin contradicts all of this. This absence of love, this misery diminishes our capacity to live with ourselves, the world and God. To believe this fantasy is to turn in on oneself, fight against oneself, to be consumed in self-occupation. The fantasy proposes that the obedience of love by which we live by love is oppressive; therefore, we should protect ourselves and secure our destiny by our own cleverness and industry.

In the logic of sin, love is not a gift but a tool – it must be calculated. This project is the opposite of being human, a destiny attained by trust in God alone. Yet this lie is so spell-binding, I cannot free myself from its enchantment by my own power and resources. Stifling, crushing, perverting, defacing, subjecting to futility all that is good, true and beautiful about being human, this lack of interior harmony can become an un-spiritual cacophony. Without the ability to relate in truth, we cannot give the gift of ourselves in love to God, and without God we are unable to give ourselves in love to all those with whom God has blessed us in this brief moment we share together in this world. Made in the image and likeness of God who has entrusted Himself to us, we contradict our existence when limiting ourselves to mediocre, insipid substitutes for the love we were made to share together.

This self-contradiction causes guilt. Engaging in various forms of mental hygiene to alleviate guilt does not make the disease go away. No method for meditation or psychological technique can free us from the self-contradiction in which we are trapped. Since all that is natural is subject to the futility of the self-contradiction in which we live, we need a power beyond and above our nature to free us from the misery that enslaves us.


Sin, the cause of guilt, has a horrific social dimension. This self-contradiction is contagious — if I do not seek the antidote and I refuse the only medicine that can heal me, it kills not only me personally, but also those I most love, wounding them in ways “I am sorry” can never heal. Brutal, cruel, dehumanizing — this hostility threatens to break hearts, ruin lives, and shatter families. This cancer, this living death, robs us of the capacity to love — and without this capacity, what are we?

Advent is a time when we deal with the reality of sin in our lives by repentance and faith in Jesus, our Lord. In the face of our self-contradiction, God sent His Son to save us. The Word became flesh and revealed the meaning of our hostility on the Cross. He is the antidote for death and the medicine of immortality. In prayer, we submit our self-contradiction to the Cross, the Sign of Contradiction. In this mystery of divine contradiction – the Word of God who is Love speaks to our lack of love, his mercy overcomes our misery.

Here, the wisdom of Saint John Paul II is powerful: If we open wide the doors of our hearts to the Redeemer, He pierces our hearts and moves us with saving sorrow. Contrition-filled prayer deals with the contradiction of sin and the guilt it causes – this holy sorrow moves us to repent of what we have done and failed to do, to confess our sins, to beg for mercy and to do penance — which is to live in the truth of what the Lord has done for us, to make straight a pathway in our hearts and to prepare the way for His coming.


Art for this post on dealing with sin – a pathway for prayer in Advent: Confession of Bern Cathedral, Bernardine Cathedral In Lviv Church Of Saint Andrew, Vodnik, January 2007, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Therese of Lisieux. And, his book “Fire from Above” was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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