How Do I Stop Sinning?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

How does one get out of the entanglement of sins they keep commiting?

Melissa Guevara

Dear Melissa,

Peace in Christ!

I have for you four time-tested measures a person can apply toward uprooting a particular sin.

The first is to get into “fighting shape” by disciplining the body. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that by self-denial the faithful can uproot sin in their lives and be truly free. It quotes St. Ambrose who said that when a person is able to rule his passions, “he will not let himself be imprisoned by sin, or thrown headlong into wickedness” (Catechism, no. 908). A traditional example is fasting and abstinence from food. People are moved by food, some people more so then others. People might eat more than what is necessary for health and otherwise indulge in desserts and give in to cravings (chocolate, breads, salty snacks, etc.). A “strong” person has the strength to forego food at any given time whereas a “weak” person gives in. By denying the body, the spirit becomes stronger and able to better address the problem of sin.

Another practical element in uprooting a particular sin is to avoid that sin, or at least the “near occasion” of that sin. This means to stay out of situations where a person might be inclined to commit that sin. An example is the understandable difficulty many unmarried couples have in chastity. They can avoid overly physical affection by not being alone together. It’s common sense: Avoiding the occasions of sin reduces the chances of a person committing the sin. The less the person commits the sin, the more he lives as if he were virtuous, and the more virtuous he becomes.

A necessary spiritual measure is to “frequent the sacraments.” Frequent Mass has the effect of separating from past sins and preserving from future sins: “By giving Himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in Him” (Catechism, no 1394; see nos. 1391-95). Frequent confession is a strong source of grace: “Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (Catechism, no. 1458).

Lastly, a spiritual director can be of invaluable aid in fighting sin. St. Francis de Sales wrote his Introduction to the Devout Life for people who desire a greater love for God. In it he discusses “The Need of a Guide for those who would enter upon and advance in the Devout Life”:

“A faithful friend,” we are told in Holy Scripture, “is a strong defense, and he that hath found such an one hath found a treasure” (Sir 6:14) and again: “A faithful friend is the medicine of life; and they that fear the Lord shall find him” (Sir 6:16). These sacred words have chiefly reference, as you see, to the immortal life, with a view to which we specially need a faithful friend, who will guide us by his counsel and advice, thereby guarding us against the deceits and snares of the Evil One: he will be as a storehouse of wisdom to us in our sorrows, trials and falls; he will be as a healing balm to stay and soothe our heart in the time of spiritual sickness, &#0151 he will shield us from evil, and confirm that which is good in us, and when we fall through infirmity, he will avert the deadly nature of the evil, and raise us up again.

A spiritual director is strongly recommended for a person who seeks to overcome a recurring sin. A devout friend or a trusted priest is helpful in finding a spiritual director. An ideal spiritual director is a priest known for his vocation to the confessional. Devout Catholics, lay or ordained, often know of such a priest. A person may have to drive for a distance to reach a good spiritual director, but the inconvenience pales in comparison to the good that it could do for the soul.

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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