Dear Father Joe: Does God keep forgiving the same sin?
Dear Father Joe: I’m really struggling to overcome a sin I commit over and over. If I continue to commit the same sin, does God keep forgiving me when I go to confession?
Oh my! This is a struggle I know. This is, in fact, a struggle that everyone who regularly goes to confession knows, and I pray that you see that as the beginning of a blessing in and of itself. We humans are communal creatures, and sometimes, one of the aspects of our struggles is that we feel alone. You are not alone. Everyone striving for holiness wrestles with this reality.
In fact, here is a great quote for you that I think of a lot: “I do not understand myself. I do not do the good I intend to do; I do what I hate.
”That quote comes from St. Paul. Saint. Paul. The guy who wrote three-quarters of the New Testament. The man who formed so much of our early theology. The saint who laid down his life for Christ. That guy wrote that!
Your struggle is the struggle that saints have. People who don’t care whether they sin or don’t even call sin “sin” are not in this fight. Saints are.
So, you are not only not alone, you are in a community of saints — people who want to be holy and love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
So, what do we do? I’d like to offer you a few things I hold to my heart in my struggle with the fact that I often say many of the same things in every confession.
A big step for me is a prayer I often offer: that God heal me of my affection for sin. One of the reasons I sin the same so often is because, at my core, I like that sin. It’s a tough realization to come to but an important one. I sin because it’s easier. I sin because it gets instant results. Those are two of the appeals of sin.
Jesus sees that affection in me, so I offer to change and heal. At every moment, I stand before God fully seen, so why pretend I can hide anything? Why not surrender that affection to Him so He can heal it? Jesus, heal me of my affection for sin.
Another thing to keep in mind is that one day, you will confess this sin or these sins for the last time. Never forget that this battle is won. Whether God heals this in heaven or here on earth, there will be a day when you and God rejoice in this seemingly impossible victory.
I have experienced this in my own life and, frankly, remain shocked at how quickly I turned from assuming I would struggle with a sin my whole life to being freed of it. There really wasn’t a “magic moment” as much as a process of little victories that I couldn’t see except in retrospect
.I also encourage you to remember that our goal is fidelity, not success. “Success” in fighting sin is a funny thing. Of course, we want that, and of course, that is the optimal outcome, but the process of gaining victory often seems to come from our willingness to get in the fight and stay in it. We go to confession as often as needed, and we trust that this process is, in and of itself, a victory. By going in over and over, we are recognizing that mercy and forgiveness get the last word, not our sin.
There is a wonderful quote from St. Julian of Norwich: “Ultimately, even sin is beholden to God.
”What this means is a liberating thing in and of itself. She is pointing out that God’s mastery over sin is so complete that He can even use that sin for His purpose. In this case here that we are talking about, we can become more humble through our recognition that we desperately need God in order to stop sinning. We become less judgmental and more compassionate as we recognize our struggle against our own sin. How wonderful is that?
The next time you or I feel we are a bit superior, the next time we are tempted to judge our neighbor harshly, we can, by God’s grace, call to mind our own struggles and let God make us more merciful, more compassionate.
Finally, I ask you to remember an important point: When you confess your sins to God and receive His mercy, He takes those sins on His shoulders and puts them to death. Those sins exist no more. They are dead. They are gone.
As a result of this, it is only you who are aware that you are confessing the same thing over and over. As far as God is concerned, this is the first time you’ve confessed it.
I pray that Jesus lift your heart and keep you from despair or frustration. I pray that you rejoice in the fact that one day, you will confess this sin for the final time.
Until that day, I pray that you allow God to heal your affection for sin and that God keeps you and me humble and allows us the wonder of knowing that our sins are dead through this beautiful sacrament.