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“Ask a Priest: I’m Falling Back Into Sin. What Should I Do?”
Q: I am 21 years old and have been Catholic for three years now. Before my conversion, because of my ignorance, I lived very sinfully and impurely. After my conversion it was amazing. My mind was enlightened by truth, and I lived totally different and was truly converted. Now, I am worried because for the past 10 months or so I have turned back to my old ways and worse. I hate my sins, I am depressed, I don’t think highly of myself, and I feel like my heart is hardened. I am honestly worried that I’m doomed. I am worried that God pulled me out of a habitually sinful life, and because I turned right back to it, he’s given up on me. I’ve honestly been in a very dark place lately because of this. Any thoughts? — D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: What you are experiencing isn’t totally unusual. Bad habits can leave deep footprints in our psyches and hearts.
So it isn’t unusual to be tempted by the same old sins. Conversion is a process, not a once-and-done event.
The joy you felt after your conversion was a consolation that Our Lord allowed in your life, to help you on the right path.
Now, however, you are back to day-to-day life and finding that the battle is not over.
The important thing is not to get discouraged with your falls. On the other hand, it is crucial that you confront the fact that life is a battle. We battle ourselves, we battle the lures of the world, we battle the snares of the devil. The spiritual life demands constant vigilance.
At the very least, you want to take advantage of the sacrament of confession as much as possible. And you need not wait till you fall into a mortal sin. The sacrament carries a grace, and frequent confession can help us avoid mortal sin in the first place.
Also useful would be to make a plan for your spiritual life.
Basically, this means coming up with a program of life for 1) how you will fight your vices, and 2) how you will develop the virtues. The second point is crucial, since it would give you something positive to aim for.
A common mistake in the spiritual life is that people only focus on the things they know they need to stop doing, but they neglect working on the things they should be doing. That can leave a risky void. Remember the parable of the unclean spirit who returns with a vengeance (Matthew 12:43-45).
To remember all the things you can be doing positively, you might want to view, listen to, or read this Retreat Guide — The Complete Christian: A Retreat Guide on the Calling of the Twelve Apostles.
To come up with a program of life, you first need to identify your root sin. For more reading, see https://www.spiritualdirection.com/2010/04/26/how-can-i-identify-my-root-sin.
Then, you want to compile a specific plan to follow. For more reading, see https://www.spiritualdirection.com/topics/spiritual-direction/rule-of-life-program-of-life.
A further help would be to have someone to guide you. This could be either a regular confessor or some other priest or a spiritual director. The director could be a layperson with the proper training. In the meantime, I can recommend the book Navigating the Interior Life, by Daniel Burke and Father John Bartunek. It even gives advice about finding a spiritual director.
Whatever you do, avoid any sense of discouragement. Our Lord doesn’t give up on us, though we might be tempted to give us on ourselves. Recognize that for what it is, a temptation from which to flee.
So when you feel discouragement creeping up on you, turn to the Lord in prayer, knowing that he never gets tired of forgiving us, and he is never surprised by our constant need for his grace.
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