Do you ever wonder why we keep repeating the same sins? I can think of two main causes of that. One is that we don’t desire enough to change, the other is that we are creatures of habit. In order to change our sinful habits, we need to choose repeatedly, consistently, and consciously the virtue opposed to our sin. If I let my impulses decide for me, I will choose the virtue some of the time, but most of the time, I will automatically fall back on my old habit. And each time I choose to act according to my usual sins, I reinforce that tendency to sin in that particular vice. I can be a lusting machine, or an angry man, or a jealous person. But each time I CHOOSE to be chaste, or forgiving, or whatever is good, I become more forgiving, more chaste. I slowly reshape my character. For this, I need the grace of Christ. But Christ also needs my freely chosen effort. You cannot stop sinning completely in one choice, but repeat this choice over and over, and it will become a spontaneous choice, a built-in way of reacting, a way of living.
The problem is that we are not consistent. We choose to do the right thing one time and the bad thing the next time. We are like a butterfly going nowhere but right or left, depending on which “flower” is more attractive. But we CAN change that. We do have a concrete model to follow: Jesus, as presented to us in the Gospel and as revealed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel taken from chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew, Jesus reminds us that sin begins within us. Our mind and heart react to the external temptations in a certain habitual way. This habitual way is what we need to change, with the help of God. We need to change the perceptions of our mind and heart in accordance with those of Christ. This is possible because the Spirit of Christ lives within us. Let the Spirit mold your emotions, your desires, your perception of yourself, of others, of the world. And start choosing consistently, repeatedly according to these perceptions and desires. If at first you do not succeed, you are a normal being! But it will get easier and easier.
Little by little, you will become a loving person instead of a lusting one, a generous person instead of a self-centered one, a forgiving person instead of a resentful and bitter one. It is worth trying. When you fail, ask God’s forgiveness right away and when you can, go to confession. God makes big demands on us, but He showers us with extreme mercy and extreme patience. He doesn’t look so much at the outcome but at the direction you are heading. “We are not ask to succeed, but to faithfully work at it.” (adapted from Mother Teresa).
Don’t let anything discourage you. After a relapse, immediately look at your Model and Helper. Put your hand into his, and He will pull you out of the murky waters.
You are a saint in the making! God is not finished with you yet. Seize every opportunity to choose well.
God bless you!