From a reader:
Just wanted to know if it’s really possible for an ordinary person like me to become holy? If so, must I go to confession as often as I deem it necessary. You see, I have sin in my life that has become repetitive and to be honest, I don’t see how I can overcome it without going to confession on a weekly basis. I desire greatly to grow closer to God, but I know there are things holding me back. What do you think?
I think that we all have to go to confession as often as is necessary. Would that priests in parishes heard confessions more often. Could they not hear confessions, for example, for a few minutes before Mass? Perhaps if their parishioners began to ask?
Sins which are habits are called vices. As with any bad habit, it is hard to get rid of a vice by just saying “No” to yourself. It takes both grace and elbow grease to get rid of bad habits.
Generally, the best way to get rid of a vice is to drive it out with another habit, a good habit or something neutral. Have a plan, form a battle plan in advance for what you are going to do instead when you note in yourself the pattern of behavior which leads to whatever habitual sin you may need to get rid of. For example, make a plan to… I dunno… scrub an oil stain out of the driveway… dust the Venetian blinds… turn off the computer and walk around the block… lift some weights… chop wood… rearrange the silverware drawer… go to the library…. Another part of the human dimension you have to tackle on your own is to avoid occasions of sin, those people, places, actions, etc., which you – after studying your own behavior with icy cold objectivity – you know have led you into the pattern of action that results in your sin.
Another thing: you need to be willing to suffer.
When we say no to our appetites, we suffer, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, depending on what it is and how deeply engrained the habit is. In this suffering, however, you have an opportunity to unite your sufferings to those of the Lord and the martyrs in heaven and, through them be tested in your love of the Lord and be corrected.
It can be done. But it might not be easy. You might come up with some other strategies, but first you need to study yourself with brutal honesty and without the slightest shred of self-deception. That can be reinforced with your evening examination of conscience.
Also, the sacrament of penance gives you not only forgiveness for your sins but also helps against sinning, a strengthening against the occasions of sin.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you may be saying. “This sounds so haaaard! We’re jist… jist… *sniffle*… only human.”
To which I respond, “And…. so…?” When did being human give us a pass? We are members of a race which fell. We have been redeemed, but we suffer from the effects of our fall. We can lose what Christ won for us. We are talking here about sins which could very well be vices, a sinful habit which could slam to a soul the gate of heaven opened for us all by the Lord by Calvary and the empty tomb. We are talking about eternal salvation… or not. And even if we might consider how some circumstances can diminish our guilt for objectively sinful actions, we must must must avoid any sense of presumption about our salvation, however fleeting.
We need fearful confidence. Call it confident fear, if you prefer.
So, you have your part that you can do, on the human level. Then you must call on God to help you and ask your angel guardians to keep from you the Enemy of the soul who, though he cannot affect your will, can tweak your memories and passions. You can use constant prayer during the day. You can use the sacrament of penance as often as necessary.
And yes, I do think it is possible for an ordinary person to become holy. I believe the Lord and trust in what He admonished and taught us and gave us during His earthly life.