Earlier this week I wrote an article, “Is There Still Sin in the World?” I ended that article by referring to the battle against sin and said I would write an article about battling sin. Well, here it is.
Rather than repeat that information here (you can just click the links above), I will focus on how we respond to sin. How do we change our behaviors so we stop sinning?
Ultimately, the answer lies not in ourselves. We cannot overcome sin on our own. We need the grace of God. As soon as we sin, we need to turn to God for help. God doesn’t expect us to change on our own and then come to him. He wants us to always come to him immediately. God is eager to show us his mercy (see the story of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32).
We need to turn to “virtue.” I think virtue is a word we don’t hear much today. We may not even know what the word really means. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it in paragraph 1803, “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.” (see paragraphs 1803-1811 for a longer discussion of virtue.)
What does that mean? In simplest terms, it means that we stop bad habits and start good ones. Yet, as Christians, we recognize that we cannot do this on our own. We need God. When we go to Confession, we say an Act of Contrition that includes that we “firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and avoid whatever leads me to sin.”
How many times do we try to change but fail? How many times do we resolve to lose weight but fail? Or maybe we lose weight but then gain it back. Why don’t we lose weight? We don’t we keep the weight off? Because we don’t change our habits for the long-term. Maybe we eat less for a couple of weeks. Maybe exercise for a couple of weeks but we fail to make it our habit. Maybe it is because we are weak. Maybe it is because we don’t want to change. We need God’s help to have the firm disposition we need.
With regards to eating, one of the Seven Deadly Sins is gluttony (we must often think of gluttony in terms of food but we might have other ways in which we also over consume that we need to work on). What is the virtue that helps us against gluttony? Temperance (for all the “remedies” to the deadly sins, I have read The Catholic Way: Faith for Living Today by Bishop Donald W. Wuerl (Doubleday: New York. 2001. pages 247-251).
Temperance is the virtue where we recognize that we don’t need everything we want and we learn to moderate our consumption to a reasonable level based on need. When we do this with food, we can lose weight and keep it off. I know this is true because, since the beginning of Lent, I have been losing weight. During Lent, it was somewhat else as I made eating less part of my Lent. I have continued to lose a few pounds since Lent ended but it has been harder because my old habit of snacking and eating too much wants to come back. I succumb to it at times. I need to continue to work on developing the virtue of temperature. I need God’s grace.
If you are guilty of the sin of pride, work on the virtue of humility. Being humble doesn’t mean we don’t do good. It means recognizing the good that we do comes from what God has given us. Humility means acknowledging that we can’t do it all on our own. We give credit where credit is due, whether it be to God or other people.
What about greed (often listed as “avarice)? The virtue we need is “liberality.” No, we don’t need to be liberal. In this case, liberality refers to “detachment” and recognizing we don’t need everything we want. We change our habits to no longer be dependent on having lots of stuff.
Do you struggle with envy? How can you change your habits to focus on the virtue of love?
Do you struggle with lust? Then you need to work on the virtue of chastity. What I am trying to show here is a positive behavioral approach. When we look at the sin and the commandments, we often take a negative approach. We think about what we cannot or shall not do. Is it not a better approach to focus on a positive virtue than to dwell in the guilt of sin? (My video presentation, Are They Rules or a Way of Life? parallels this approach, presentation runs 57 minutes).
That leaves sloth and anger as the last of the Seven Deadly Sins. Here, Bishop Wuerl does not offer positive habits that are explicitly listed as virtues. For sloth, he points us to diligence. In being slothful, we fail to fulfill reasonable expectations. Diligence calls us to do what we promise and what is reasonably asked of us. For anger, Bishop Wuerl points us to “meekness,” one of the Beatitudes given by Jesus in Matthew 5:1-12. Rather than resenting others, Wuerl says, “Meekness is the right ordering of our appreciation for the good things God has given us and others, and the simple recognition that it all comes from God and should be a source of joy and satisfaction for everyone, not resentment and anger.”
I hope this helps you to turn from sin to virtue with the help of God’s grace.