When a Desire for Holiness Leads To Despair

When a Desire for Holiness Leads To Despair

In the spiritual life, the desire to do good and avoid sin is a great gift. Our desire for holiness can often make us realize how often we fail to love God and neighbor in the course of each day, and by the grace of God we repent of even the smallest failings.

However, the devil will never miss an opportunity to lead us away from the Lord, and our desire for holiness can sometimes lead to despair as we are faced with how often we fall short of perfection. We can begin to doubt how we can ever find favor with God if we can’t seem to stop sinning no matter how hard we try.

Recently, Patrick Madrid received a letter from an anonymous listener who shared a raw, honest look at her struggles and the despair she is feeling. Below is an excerpt of Anonymous’ letter, as well as Patrick’s response:

Dear Patrick,
My situation is one of complexities, regrets, shame, and despair; and I am at a loss to know what to do. I am living in mortal sin. I am Catholic, I have received the sacraments of initiation, but I have not received Communion in many years due to my life of sin. I have not made a good Confession in more than 25 years, mainly because I don’t believe I will abstain from sinful behaviors. 
Some of these sinful behaviors appear to be compulsions. … I feel caught in a cycle of sinful and self-destructive behaviors that I have little or no control over, and I feel that to go to Confession would be a pointless endeavor since I doubt my ability to stay away from sinful behaviors.
I have prayed for faith, strength, and courage to change. I attend Mass every Sunday, but despite the appearance of being a practicing Catholic, it appears to be without any virtue or merit, as I am in a state of mortal sin. 
I don’t know what to do … this appears to be my destiny and if that’s the case then why go on living? All I’m doing by living is continuing to reject God and disobey Him. Whereas if I stopped existing I would at least put an end to my apparent disregard for the sacrifice He made. 
A strong faith and a belief in God could help withstand these disappointments, but without this there is nothing. And if there is nothing, then what is the purpose in an existence that is harmful, hurtful, and a disappointment to all. I don’t see any other way. Do you?

Stay Close to the Sacraments
Let’s begin with what you said about not having gone to the Sacrament of Confession for 25 years. … The thing is, by staying away from Confession you are actually staying away from the source of the graces necessary to cure these problems. Now, naturally, if there are indeed psychological problems, then counseling and the kind of care that a professional can help you with is going to help – and I would certainly encourage you to pursue that. But from a spiritual standpoint, I would encourage you to not stay away from the sacraments. Because there you are going to have the graces that you need to combat these difficult things that are in your life.

You talk about being entrenched in sin and you’re not able to get out of the sin – that’s what God’s grace is there for. Grace builds on nature, it doesn’t destroy nature. Little by little, your ‘yeses’ to God, even just saying ‘Lord, I give myself over to you. I want to do what You want me to do. I don’t want to do this sin. You know, Lord, that I don’t want to do this, but I’m weak.’ That’s where God’s grace can enter in. And little by little begin building upon nature. Grace builds upon nature.

Don’t Let Repetitive Sins Keep You From Confession
Not only do you need those graces from the sacraments, but God knows that you don’t know the future. And if you have a problem with repetitive sins, whatever they may be, what is required if you’re going to make a good, sacramental confession is a firm purpose of amendment.

God doesn’t expect you to know the future, because you can’t. So, you can freely acknowledge, ‘Lord, I’m weak. I’m sinful. I’ve fallen into this sin so many times before, I don’t want to fall into it again, I don’t know if I’m going to fall into it again, but I’m telling you now, Lord, that I don’t want to.’ That’s your firm purpose of amendment. That’s what’s necessary.

Just because in your mind you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Well, I know it’s inevitable. It’s going to happen again.’ Leave that in God’s hands. As long as you say in your will, ‘Lord, I don’t want to fall into these sins again and I’m making a firm purpose of amendment, even in my weakness. I’m still saying, right now in all honesty, I don’t want to do this and I’m going to avoid it.’

That’s sufficient. If you can do that, and I suspect you can, then you can go to Confession today! You can come back to Confession after 25 long years, and you can start receiving Holy Communion again. And you can start getting those graces that are so crucial to overcoming sin and vice in your life.

Don’t Go It Alone
Now what about the issue of mortal sin? Remember that to commit a mortal sin, to be truly culpable of committing a mortal sin, is you have to have freedom to do this. If you’re under some type of duress, if somebody has a gun to your head, if you have a compulsion that’s out of your control, then your guilt, or your culpability, is diminished.

But you need to go to Confession and receive Holy Communion as a means to strengthen yourself, because you’re trying to fight this battle all on your own, and you need the support of the sacraments. You need the power of Jesus Christ in the sacrament. That power in you that comes from the sacraments is going to help you beat these things.

You may already be doing this, but I encourage you to start praying the rosary. If you haven’t already begun that practice, start praying the rosary. Pray it every day, especially on those really bad days. Ask the Virgin Mary to help you, and she will. She is going to step in and assist you – she’s not going to force it, but she’s going to help you.

Listen to Patrick’s full response below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific on Immaculate Heart Radio.