Updated: Aug 4, 2022
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St. Augustine famously taught that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. As followers of Christ, we are all greatly aware that our ultimate purpose is to worship and please the Lord. While many people struggle to discern their vocation, we can all be assured that the Lord calls us all to the singular spiritual vocation of sainthood. It is with all our hearts that we, as followers of Christ, seek these things. It is with great struggle and disappointment that we work towards them.
Just as often as we turn our heads up to the Lord, praising him and worshipping him, many of us find ourselves struggling to raise our heads, too ashamed to face God. We who so desperately seek to devote ourselves to a godly life so desperately pray for the Lord’s mercy. Even as much as we love Christ and hate sin, for many, we fall into the same sins over and over. Each failure stinging worse than the last; disappointment growing each time.
So, what is it that causes us Christians to fail? What is it that even for a moment gets us to turn our backs on God? This is one of the most important questions each Christian must ask himself. Not only should we ask God “What more can I for you?”, but also first “What is dragging me away from you Lord? How can I conquer this enemy?” The most important thing to remember throughout this whole process, however, many days, weeks, years, or even decades it takes to understand and resolve, is that no matter how ashamed you are, or how far away God seems, he always wants you to come back to him.
So, what is this force that leads us, the flock of God, of the almighty shepherd, astray? Perhaps it is Satan. Perhaps Satan has his grasp so tightly around us that we cannot help but fail. Or perhaps it is some other demon oppressing us, twisting our thoughts, and encouraging sin. Maybe it’s just inevitable, after all a righteous man stumbles even times a day, right? Maybe it’s the world, the world which we so often recognize as fallen and falling away. Yet, when you look at each of these possibilities we realize, that certainly while these are all forces that can contribute to sin, they do not in and of themselves perform the sin.
Oh no, it is us! While it would be much easier and perhaps comforting to some to believe that there is an evil force, perhaps even causing us to sin, beyond our control, that simply is not the reality. Our greatest enemy and our greatest producer of our sins are ourselves. As easy as it is to pass off blame or even pretend otherwise, we are our worst enemy. Even if we are tempted by these external forces and an impure world, it is the impurity within us that leads us to act against God, to sin.
Since the introduction of sin into the world from the fall of Adam & Eve, the nature of humanity has been tainted. With each sin, we further stain our souls, dirtying ourselves even further. We are all felons in the court of God, our mortal sins worthy of death. While the world may have held up the gun, we pull the trigger, accepting the consequences of our grave decision. Each mortal sin is a shot into our relationship with God, and each venial sin slowly withers away at the rope connecting us to Christ.
This realization only enhances our need for Christ. We must accept that we cannot, by our own accord, be justified to God, and grow in virtue. Just as sin detracts from our godly relationship, virtuous growth and action enhance it. One of the first steps we need to follow to avoid sin is to stop overestimating our abilities. Humility is a virtue, and pride is a sin. Pride leads one to go out on their own into situations they cannot handle, but humility is the strength of a man to ask for help, recognizing his faultiness.
A British monk by the name of Pelagius was declared a heretic by the First Council of Ephesus in 431. This decision came because of his heresy which carries his namesake Pelagianism. Pelagius held that man was not stained by original sin, and that we could freely choose, by the help of divine grace, to attain human perfection. The position taught by the Church, however, and articulated by St. Augustine of Hippo, is that we cannot attain righteousness on our own and are entirely dependent on the grace of God. Here in lies an incredibly important revelation, while it is our stained nature that leads us to choose sin, we cannot attain righteousness. While we may be able to, for a period or in several instances, reject sin and choose goodness on our own, we require the divine grace of the Lord to help us endure in this spiritual warfare and to truly be righteous and justified.
Whenever we lapse into sin, especially a habitual sin, it is easy to lead ourselves into believing that we must conquer or can conquer our sins on our own. But we cannot, so rather than trying to sheerly will your way through times of temptation and tribulation, pray through them. Ask the Lord,” Lord please guide, strengthen and bless me, so that I may grow in heavenly virtues, can turn away from the sins that have plagued me, and grant me the grace to become righteous.” If you truly have faith in the Lord Christ, he will bear witness to you in times of trouble, and, as I’ve experienced myself, can pull you out of temptation and sin. Jesus Christ came to save us because we could not save ourselves even as much as we’d like to think we can.
Another mistake this idea highlights is that we often forgot the power of faith. After all, one of the things that distinguish Christianity from the other religions, even the Abrahamic, is that it’s a faith-based religion. In the gospel of Mark, chapter five, Jesus is on his way to heal a man’s dying daughter, and as he travels, he is followed by a large crowd. A woman in the crowd, who had bled for twelve years and only grew worse in condition, learned of Jesus, and when she did she reached behind him to touch his cloak. She thought she would be healed if she were to just touch his clothes, and she was. When Jesus confronted her about touching him, he says,” Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be free from your suffering.” We too can be like this woman, we too suffer from the chronic disease of sin to which no doctor can heal us, however by believing in the divinity and power of Christ he can so also heal us, so that we too may go in peace and be freed from our suffering.
This is exactly what receiving the sacraments does for us. Whenever we participate in reconciliation and do penance, we are healing our relationship with God, and our debts are forgiven. However, it is through our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist we are healed, where we, after receiving it, are alleviated of our past suffering and told to go in peace. Christ came not for the righteous man, but the broken man, and he instituted his Church so that we too could accept his sacrifice, be taught his teachings, partake in the sacraments and witness Jesus ourselves.
Passionately I tell you, even when you’re ashamed of your sins, even when confession is the last place you want to go, it is all the more important that you go. The Lord will not abandon his people (Psalm 94:14). So, neither should you abandon the Lord. One of the tricks of the devil is to make you believe you don’t need a confession, perhaps you can just confess them from your bedroom to God directly. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God after the fall, it is easy to want to hide our shame from God, or perhaps we’ve even afraid the priest will judge us. Foolish! We cannot fall for these tricks of the devils, nor let our ego get in the way. We claim so desperately to want to reconcile ourselves and be godly, and yet we do not jump at the opportunity to do so. In a state of mortal sin, a state which requires more divine grace than ever, we are more likely to turn away from the Lord all because we do not wish to admit our faults and perhaps the way another may view us! The Lord cries out to teach us to turn away from our sins, and that for those of us who have fallen into it, to repent, confess, and pray.
We are our worst enemies not only because we are the cause of our sin, but because we also get in our way of reconciling ourselves to the Lord. In our depraved state, we become even more unjustly egotistical. In our weakened state, we become even more independent from God, believing we can save ourselves. FOOLISH! Christ came to save us from our own worst enemy, ourselves because we fail to triumph over ourselves. I call you today, schedule a confession, receive communion in a worthy state, and pray to the Lord for forgiveness and for the grace that you may grow in heavenly virtue.
Each day take another step to center your life around Jesus Christ, whether that be an extra fifteen minutes of prayer, spending time in scripture, meditations on virtues and the mysteries, discussing the gospel, writing about the Lord, or attending mass and confession. Just remember the power of Jesus Christ and that he can raise the dead, heal the sick, and make water into wine, just as he can a sinner into a saint. You cannot do this on your own, you can’t defeat your greatest enemy, your own nature, so ask the Lord of lords, King of Kings, the Lamb of God, to save you from yourself.