Thirdly, seek out the root causes of sin. Sin isn’t normally something we make a completely random act of the will to do. It isn’t as if the spiritual state of a person is completely separate from the psychology of the person. A book I was recently recommended by a friend is Be Healed by Bob Schuchts. Now, I’m not one for self-help books, but this is more of a guide of practical spiritual and psychological practices to help people understand why they are sinning and what to do about it, both according to nature and grace working in cooperation. So if you can ignore the title and cover art, I highly recommend that book. But even if you don’t use it, you can still use the basic practice of asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how your most external sins trace back their roots to the Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Sloth, Greed, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, and Envy. Sometimes it’s obvious which is the overarching area of sin, sometimes it’s not. So spend some time in prayer about it. As you trace it back to the root, begin to ask the Spirit to reveal how that kind of sin became a problem. Was there a moment you decided to believe “no one could ever love me” or “I will always be alone”? Considering the psychology as well as the spiritual allows you to work with God to find authentic healing.
Fourthly, as you come to recognize the roots of the sin, don’t just root them up in a vacuum. If you don’t replace them with anything, well, we tend to abhor vacuums and the vacuum those sins leave will fill up just as easily with other sins if we don’t find a better alternative. Practices might be spiritual: reading spiritual reading at night rather than being online, or pausing to mutter a Hail Mary before you light off on your friend. They might also be natural: calling a friend to avoid feeling lonely and to talk out your anxiety or going out on public dates rather than just watching Netflix in the dark all the time. You probably will end up with a mix of habits on both levels if you take this seriously, which ultimately makes sense. But don’t just say “no” to sin. “Just say no” is one of those ideas that never works out as well as we hope, becuase humans don’t just do things to avoid consequences. We do things for the sake of achieving something as well. So work to find a good, virtuous end to focus on and direct your effort towards, rather than just simply denying everything you think you want. Few of us have the strength to only resist. Sometimes we need to receive something too, so make sure what you are receiving is the fruit of virtuous actions.
Fifthly, learn to laugh at yourself, after you have been able to feel true remorse. The worst way most of us can respond to true, heartfelt sorrow is to dwell on it beyond what remorse would ask. When you only focus on your failure, it becomes tempting to lose sight of the mercy and the love. It can be a stronghold for Satan to whisper more lies. Continue to confess, but also learn to not be anxious in anything. A way to do that is by not taking yourself so seriously.
So, to get personal, one way I struggle is getting anxious. When I get that way, I tend to lash out in anger at people around me. Afterwards, I always feel awful about how I treated people. But if I continue to only focus on that, I lose sight of how they and God love me despite my sin against them. So to avoid the loop of “I did this awful thing, I must be the worst human ever,” I try to apologize and make restitution if needed, get to confession ASAP, and after that, I try to laugh with God about it. I’ll make a joke about needing more grace, or about how He needs to give me like a cosmic censor bleep at the rate I’m going. It’s corny, but it helps me to take myself less seriously and humble myself enough to accept His mercy.
After all, if you get too anxious about all the ways you’re messing up how you are being Catholic and messing up being human and relating to others in an imperfect way, it doesn’t make you any holier. It just makes you anxious.
Lastly, don’t forget to frequent the sacraments and prayer. Confess: early and often. Go to Mass and frequently receive the Eucharist, the heart of the Christian life, and if you cannot receive, go to adoration and make a spiritual communion. Pray constantly. Short mental prayers. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a sustained, yet shorter prayer that orients us towards seeking mercy. The Rosary is good to fight temptations as well. I personally have been (at the advice of a friend) working to incorporate the Divine Office into my daily prayer life, because it is the prayer of the whole People of God, that is, the Church. Praying just morning and evening prayer allow me the ability to begin and end my day with an orientation towards Christ and His salvific action, and the hope I have in Him. It also is a great lead in to focused mental prayer.
All in all, sinning sucks. It’s something I hope to stop doing, sooner rather than later. But, my sin is not who I am, and it does not have to determine who I will be. So, have hope. And give some of these practices a try as you work to cooperate with the grace God is giving you. If you have any other suggestions on how to fight sin, please leave them in the comments below, so that we can all gain more understanding of how we can grow in holiness as memebers of Christ’s Church.