Why are some sins so hard to overcome?
FR. JOHN BARTUNEK says attachments and self-absorption can hinder spiritual progress . . .
It’s important to remember that here on earth we’re members of the Church militant. We’re in the midst of a battle. As we grow spiritually, the enemies of our soul don’t sit idly by.
Did you know that the Church’s most notable heretics were almost all priests in their 40s? Pelagius, Arius, Apollinaris, Nestorius — these were all men of God, passionately dedicated to the Church and seeking deeper intimacy with Christ, who advanced in theological knowledge and in the spiritual life. Who would have guessed that they would become instruments of ecclesial devastation and spiritual shipwreck? Yet, they did. We can never forget that as we grow spiritually, the battle doesn’t go away.
The enemy of our souls is smart. He knows that temptation has to be customized to the situation of the person being tempted. The devil can’t invent new sins, but he can disguise them in new ways. So, for someone who is well along the road toward spiritual maturity, the tempter instead seeks to clothe the capital sins in spiritual garments.
For example, the inclination to vanity can appear in a subtle desire to have one’s new and advanced piety noticed. You might start trying to draw attention to the outward manifestation of your devotion. Or you find yourself seeking to impress your spiritual director — hiding your real struggles, lest your director thinks you are less holy than you want to appear. You may even switch spiritual directors, not for any objective reason, but simply because you don’t want to follow anyone’s advice except your own.
In the area of sensuality, one can become attached to the consolations that God has given during one’s prayer and sacramental life. Maybe you find yourself trying to force certain emotional reactions during your meditation or after Communion. You start to seek spiritual feelings too much, forgetting that the goal of holiness is union with God in mind and will, not feelings of consolation.
Spiritual greed can take the form of an insatiable desire to read every spiritual book, to accumulate rosaries and holy cards and icons, to jump around from devotion to devotion trying to imbibe the entire spiritual patrimony of the Church all at once — even to the neglect of life’s basic duties, instead of seeking patiently to go deep in the essentials.
These types of attachments and self-absorption can hinder spiritual progress as much as the less subtle sins. We need not become obsessed with them. As always in the spiritual life, the compass and anchor remain the same: I love God by accepting and fulfilling his will in each moment of my life. That’s the surest guide through the shadows and tangles of this earthly pilgrimage — as sure a guide for us as it was for Jesus: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).
FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions” (Servant Books, 2014).
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”
Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1849, 1865