Have you ever struggled with a grave sin? I mean something really serious. You want with all your heart to break this sin’s power in your life, but no matter how hard you struggle and pray, you just keep falling into it. You are constantly feeling guilty, and the guilt keeps you from approaching Our Lord through fear. In confession, you find yourself humiliated to be confessing the same serious matter yet again. But no matter how much you hate the presence of this sin in your life, you just can’t stop committing it.
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s Advice
We’ve all been there—struggles like this are a part of the Catholic life. But how do we handle this kind of repeated sin without falling into despair? St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose feast day is today, has some advice.
Whenever you feel guilty, even if it is because you have consciously committed a sin, a serious sin, something you have kept doing many, many times, never let the devil deceive you by allowing him to discourage you. Whenever you feel guilty, offer all your guilt to the Immaculate, without analyzing it or examining it, as something that belongs to her…
My beloved, may every fall, even if it is serious and habitual sin, always become for us a small step toward a higher degree of perfection.
In fact, the only reason why the Immaculate permits us to fall is to cure us from our self-conceit, from our pride, to make us humble and thus make us docile to the divine graces.
The devil, instead, tries to inject in us discouragement and internal depression in those circumstances, which is, in fact, nothing else than our pride surfacing again.
If we knew the depth of our poverty, we would not be at all surprised by our falls, but rather astonished, and we would thank God, after sinning, for not allowing us to fall even deeper and still more frequently.
In other words, St. Maximilian is saying that we are allowed to fall so that we learn humility. This is essential because pride is the number one enemy of the soul, and no matter how much we seem to advance in the spiritual life, it is all an illusion if we are infected with pride and self-reliance. We must first learn humility before we can make any real progress in holiness.
The problem is, if we could conquer ourselves through sheer willpower, we would quickly become self-reliant and proud. We would have no idea how pathetic and weak we really are, or how dependent we are on the grace of God for even the smallest good act.
Repeated sin, then, breaks down any illusions we have that we can do it on our own. The crushing humiliation we feel with each fall can be a good thing if it drives us to dependence on Mary, and through Mary, Jesus, for our every need (keep in mind, St. Maximilian is writing to those who have entrusted themselves entirely to Our Lady’s care).
A lesson in the school of Christ
Repeated sin can be painful, and in the midst of our humiliation, we may wonder if we will ever find victory. According to St. Maximilian, you will in God’s good time—if you are teachable and docile, that is.
The painful lessons of humility are only the first stage in our advance in holiness. Think of them as Holiness 101 in the school of sainthood.
Sirach, one of my favorite books of the Bible, makes this clear in Chapter 4. Beginning in verse 11, it says, “Wisdom exalts her sons and gives help to those who seek her. Whoever holds her fast will obtain glory….”
But guess what, this exaltation comes only after the trials of humiliation. The passage goes on to say, “For at first she will walk with him on tortuous paths, she will bring fear and cowardice upon him, and will torment him by her discipline until she trusts him, and she will test him with her ordinances.”
Of course, there is a danger in this testing. If we despair, an act of prideful self-reliance, we will fall away. But if we learn humility, we will be saved. As Sirach summarizes, “For there is a shame which brings sin [despair], and there is a shame which is glory and favor [humility and true contrition].”
If we pass the test and learn the lessons of humility, “[Lady Wisdom] will come straight back to him and gladden him, and will reveal her secrets to him.”
Take St. Maximilian’s advice and never despair when faced with repeated serious sin. Despair is truly the only sin God can’t forgive. Instead, purpose to learn humility and be docile to the graces God sends to you. Persevere in grace and wait patiently on Our Lord. He will deliver you in due time.