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“Ask a Priest: What If I No Longer Feel the Strength to Fight Against Sin?”
Q: I’m wondering what I should do if I no longer feel the strength to fight against sin. The only thing that makes me want to change is a terrible fear of being condemned, and a little bit of love that I have for spreading the Truth. But I am not a good witness to the faith. I’m a really bad person. –F.G.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: We are all sinners and we all need God’s grace. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). You say that you have a love for spreading the Truth. Well, one of the first signs of progress in the spiritual life is we aren’t afraid to face that truth about ourselves: that we are flawed and need God’s help to overcome our flaws.
It is important to remember that God will always give us the necessary grace to overcome any temptation. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength” (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is crucial that we don’t “psyche ourselves out” — that is, it is crucial that we don’t make excuses and say, “I can’t resist this sin” or “That is just the way I am.” No! If we say that, we are implying that God either won’t help us or has given up on us. Which he won’t do.
Still, grace builds on nature. And that means we have to try to do our part to prepare our hearts for God’s grace. You will want to make time for prayer each day. Try to set time aside for prayer when you get up in the morning. Try to get to confession once or twice a month; it is good if you can go to the same priest, since he might be able to help you more easily if he knows your situation. Try to receive Communion often (you need to be in a state of grace, that is, without mortal sin).
Try to get involved in some kind of community life, too. This is a big help in living the faith. Consider joining a Bible study group at a parish or getting involved in volunteer work (taking meals to shut-ins, etc.).
Beware the danger of discouragement. It is one of the easiest traps to fall into. Discouragement does not — repeat, does not — come from the Holy Spirit. It comes from our own fallen nature or even from the devil. God is never surprised by our weaknesses, and all he asks is that we keep making a decent effort and lean on his grace. St. Paul himself, like the rest of us, experienced deep contradictions within his soul — he wanted to do what was good and right, but he often failed (see Romans 7:15-25). God’s grace can still keep working in our lives as long as we don’t give up hope, as St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:7-12:
“Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Also, cultivate your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Grow in love for her Son. It is he who calls all of us to holiness (“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]). He won’t deny the help that we need to carry out that command. Count on my prayers!