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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Take Baby Steps in Overcoming My Sins?”
Q: I started praying both the rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet. I have come to see how self-absorbed and sinful I am and can be. I feel regret for things I have said and done, but it is too late for me to take them back. What should I do? How can I take baby steps in eliminating my sins? How can I remain humble when being corrected? I hate that my vices and faults are transparent. I struggle with accepting that God holds us Christians to a higher standard. When I hear that, I want to run away. It seems unfair that people outside the Church are free to live as they please without judgment. My question might reveal some of my biblical ignorance. -D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The fact that you sense your sinfulness more clearly is a sign that you are probably advancing in the spiritual life. You are seeing yourself as you really are, through the eyes of Christ.
But that is why this is a moment for hope, not despair. Christ is here to raise us up.
As for being held to a higher standard, you should be grateful for the gift of baptism. Jesus says, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). And if you want help reflecting on how to apply that to your own life, in an eminently positive way, you may want to watch this short video, the Conference from the Retreat Guide called Starlight.
Your faith is a gift from God, and you need to see it as such. People “outside the church” are not really free to live as they wish; they too have consciences, and they will have to follow them in order to have a chance at salvation.
Moving ahead in the spiritual life involves a lot of work and effort. God’s grace will be there to sustain you. Don’t lose hope if you still have falls. A big part of humility is recognizing how much we need God’s help and not being afraid to face it when we fail to take advantage of his grace.
Part of his help might come in the form of people around us who correct us from time to time. In moments like these, an act of humility would be to stop and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, and then calmly evaluate the correction that is offered. Could it be that you have a blind spot somewhere? Could it be that you need to rethink an opinion you have long cherished? Could it be that Our Lord is trying to nudge you to change something in your life?
To grow in the spiritual life, you will find it helpful to have a plan. It is possible to work systematically on the things we need to change in ourselves.
One ingredient is having a program of life. It is a kind of business plan for the spiritual life. We examine ourselves, focus on the key vice we need to get rid of, and then come up with a plan to counter this vice (usually by working on the opposite virtue).
For more reading on programs of life, click here.
At any rate, you will want to intensify your prayer life and sacramental life. Make time for Bible reading or spiritual reading (here is a great book to start with, since it explains how to grow in our love for God, step by step: Seeking First the Kingdom). Consider attending daily Mass occasionally. It might be helpful to have a regular confessor or spiritual director.
There is a way to overcome vice, with the grace of God. The key is to commit yourself to this path of holiness that God calls you to. I pray that you do just that.