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Why Do We Choose to Sin?

When we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive a penance, and say an “Act of Contrition.” As part of the “Act of Contrition,” we firmly resolve to sin no more. Yet, our struggle with sin often continues. This can be discouraging. It troubles us.

How are we to stop sinning? First and foremost, we need to realize that we cannot win the battle against sin on our own. We need God’s grace.

Another important step in the battle against sin is to understand why we sin. We must ask ourselves why do we choose to sin?

Actually, we should ask ourselves are we really choosing sin? For something we do to “qualify” as a sin, we must choose to do it. This means if we are truly forced to do something, we are not guilty of sin. For example, a victim of rape has not committed sexual sin during the rape.

When we are consenting to the action, are we really choosing to sin? Is it our intent to sin? Normally, I don’t think it is our intention to sin, meaning that our objective is not “sin” itself. Yes, we sin, but it is not our goal to sin. Here, to understand why we sin, we need to think about what we are choosing to do.

For example, gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Gluttony is generally understood as consuming too much food or drink (we might also think of it in terms of overconsuming other items). Is it ever our goal to eat too much? I doubt it. We do not eat too much just to be gluttonous. We eat too much for various reasons. We might really enjoy the food that is offered us so we eat more because of the pleasure it brings us. Sometimes we eat too much when we are stressed. In the latter, to firmly resolve to sin no more, we need to seek better ways to deal with stress. In the former, we ask for the virtue of temperance.

Let’s look at some other ways we sin and why we might do them.

The First Commandment calls us to worship only the one true God. When God gave the Ten Commandments to his people, many cultures were polytheistic (believing in many gods). As Catholics, we believe there is only one God. However, do we make other things more important to us than God? Jesus tells us, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13). When we let something else control our actions, we effectively make that our God. Is there something that controls your life that keeps you from putting God first?

Next, what about the Third Commandment to keep the Sabbath holy? Keeping the Sabbath holy begins with coming to Mass (unless we are prevented by illness or severe weather or necessary work, like health care). Is it ever our goal to skip Mass for the sake of skipping it? Are we being lazy (slothfulness)? Or is there something else is going on that we desire? Sin comes when we let that desire become more important to us than our commitment to God.

Then, there is the Fifth Commandment, you shall not kill. Clearly, we should not desire to ever kill anyone. Even if we are acting in self-defense, our goal should never be to kill. Our goal is to protect ourselves or others. On the topic of abortion, a grave sin, I doubt anyone’s goal is to kill the baby. They may be acting out of selfish desire to not want the child. They may be acting out of fear or shame. None of these legitimize abortion. It is grave matter. I simply speak of motives to help us realize why one might commit a sin. Then, we can do something to avoid the sin.

The Sixth Commandment is you shall not commit adultery (lust). Is it ever one’s goal to commit adultery? Or is one seeking physical pleasure? How about struggles with loneliness or hurt? None of these justify committing adultery but, again, understanding our motives helps us to sin no more. Sometimes, there may be no reason at all. We need to understand that too and ask God to help us control our behaviors.

The last commandment I will discuss here is the Seventh Commandment, you shall not steal. Do we steal because we are greedy (we simply want more)? We need to learn moderation and practice the virtue of temperance. Do we steal to support an addiction? Then we need to work on addressing the addiction. Lastly, some may steal feeling a genuine need just to put food on the table. Are the rest of us guilty of “social sin” in not helping them (cf. “Social Sin”)?

So what sins do you struggle with? What is it that leads you to commit these sins? What can you change? Where do you need God’s grace to help you in your firm resolve to sin no more?


Fr. Jeff

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