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Can a Root Sin Change?

August 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Root Sin, Self Knowledge, Sin

Dear Father John, Can a root sin change over your life? It seems to me that increasingly sensuality is being replaced as a root sin by pride. have you seen this, as one sin goes, another becomes more prominent?

for post on can a root sin changeThe general opinion on this question is, as far as I can tell, that root sins don’t change. Remember, because of our fallen nature, we all carry within us tendencies towards vanity, pride, and sensuality. When we identify one of these tendencies as our “root” sin, that just means that it is the one that has more sway within us, it is the one we find harder to resist on a habitual basis. It’s kind of like being an extrovert or an introvert. Each of us naturally tends towards one of those: we are more of an extrovert than an introvert, for example, or vice versa. A mature personality will have developed enough self-governance so as not to be enslaved to one’s natural introversion or extroversion, but the basic make-up doesn’t actually change. Just so, the root sin is something that’s kind of built in to our unique, individual embodiment of our common fallen human nature.

So why would it seem that your sensuality is being replaced by pride? It could be that your root sin is not very pronounced and that you have fairly even “doses” of both of these. I suspect, however, that something else is going on. More likely, you are beginning to get to know yourself more deeply. Having spent some time putting conscious effort into your spiritual growth, the Holy Spirit is now able to give you more light. And so, you are becoming more aware of the deeper causes of your most usual faults and sins. Maybe you had one or two glaring faults in the area of sensuality, and these blinded you to other aspects of your interior life. And now that you have been developing virtue, the glare of those faults is subsiding, enabling you to understand yourself more objectively and thoroughly.

That’s just a guess, though, since I don’t have more detailed information to work with. But it is an educated guess. One of my priest friends and I were talking recently, and he told me that it took him over ten years of intense spiritual effort to discover his root sin.

I would like to issue one warning before finishing this post. When we begin to work systematically on our spiritual growth, a new temptation can surface: We can become overly preoccupied with the means we use for spiritual growth (program of life, spiritual direction, meditation methods…), which can lead us to lose our focus on the goal, which is to know, love, and follow Jesus Christ a little bit better each day. So, for example, if you find yourself frustrated in your efforts to identify your root sin, or if you are discouraged by the possibility that you may have misidentified your root sin, it could be a sign of over-emphasis on the means.

Christian spirituality is not reducible to techniques and formulas, because it is a real relationship, a friendship with Christ. Trust that God is leading you and making use of even your smallest and clumsiest efforts to draw you closer to himself. New discoveries along the way should never be a source of discouragement, but a source of delight. Remember, we do not make ourselves perfect and then start following Christ, rather, we start stumbling along at Christ’s side, and he leads us, little by little, with immense patience and wisdom, deeper and deeper into the endless perfection of his Sacred Heart.

Yours in Christ, Fr John Bartunek, LC, ThD


Art for this post on whether a root sin can change: Detail of Saint-Cloud, Eugène Atget, 1924, author's life plus 80 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Angela

    “Christian spirituality is not reducible to techniques and formulas, because it is a real relationship, a friendship with Christ.”
    What a great post Fr John! Again you have spoken so well of what we all need to hear. I think as Catholics, who enjoy a whole host of wonderful liturgical and public prayer opportunities, sometimes we do forget that our walk with God is primarily relational — and that He is a real person waiting to be entered into relationship with. I can’t imagine how our parishes and communities would change if each and everyone got this message and lived it. You said it so beautifully here. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and insight.

  • doanli

    Have been stumbling a lot and feel very depressed about it.

    Thank you, Father, for encouragement. (I have no Spiritual Director and no one else I can talk to.)

    • $1650412

      Doanil- I feel for you! (and I totally understand what you are saying!) One of the most significant things that helps me, especially when I am feeling this way is to go to Confession. It is such a victory in Christ just to go, and then of course absolution and that ‘fresh start’- or more the picked-up, dusted off, tears wiped away, and comfort, love and encouragement administered by grace in the sacrament help me to be more disposed to live out what St. Paul says about forgetting what lies behind and pressing on toward the mark ( Phillipians 3:13-14) with renewed courage. Jesus has great confidence in us and so the stumbling and faltering are part of our reality but I think He would not want us to spend too much time focussing on our weaknesses except to let them be a springboard into a greater hope in His infinite strength and willingness to be our ever present help and friend! God bless!

      • Teresa

        I completely ‘ditto” Jo’s words of wisdom. May God’s love envelope you Doanli!! May the light of His love inspire you and help you to see His presence all around you! Although you mention that you are stumbling…your witness of gratefulness is SO beautiful! So many people enjoy these posts, yet, you took the time to thank Father for the encouragement! God bless YOU!!!

    • judeen

      doanli, where we are weak , so God is stronge… ask God to help you and be strong for you….

  • Guest

    Fr. John, Here you are again, telling me to stop tormenting myself and stumble along behind Christ. No, at times, I feel He is dragging me by the hand behind Him because I cannot take another step on this rocky route of Spiritual growth. But, hey Father, He spent my whole lifetime running after me until I got into such a deep hole and I screamed in terror begging Him to haul me out. And He sure did. But my root sins and my Cardinal Sin – Pride – are still clinging to me and the fight at times looks like I have lost the strength to struggle anymore. At those times when praying, I ask him to curse that Fig Tree so that it can wither and allow me to become even closer to Him. You know what Father? I have total Faith He is willing to do that if I perservere and stop groaning about my bruised knees and blistered feet. Am I reading Him right, Father?

    • judeen

      I heard if 1 is worryed about pride and keep working on it. you do not have pride…. dont curse the fig tree… just ask God to guide you gentlely closer to Him.. He will… complaining… I need to keep on top of that…. but we need to talk to God how we feel .. we cry out to Him in our pain .. a bond close.. the psalms talk about this… caughting tears in a bottle.

  • LizEst

    Great post, Fr. John. The subject was the same question I had yesterday. Can the root sin change? I am heartened to learn of your priest friend and how it took him over ten years of intense spiritual effort to discover his. That gives me hope for working on mine (I believe I know what it is…but still see the other two flare up as issues from time to time). Isn’t it interesting that the root sins are three? Almost as if there is one to go against each of the three divine persons…as, perhaps, in the temptations of Christ in the desert!!!

  • Teresa

    This is a perfect post for me today with so many nuggets to feast upon! Thank you!!!

  • doanli

    God bless you all for your Christian support–

    I try to remember to offer up EVERY THING no matter how small….I heard about this from a very wise, holy, and well known nun. 🙂

    Father, I look forward to more of your writings. I find myself hungering for words from good priests and religious. (I mean it! 🙂 )

  • judeen

     root sin… this is so important… a wound, an unforgiveness from years ago… we keep doing the same sin and feed a demon… as it gets bigger… we grow weaker…
          I met a women who taught at a retreat center.. about marraige.. she was on her about 5th marraige and ready to get divorced again.. as we talked, I asked her if she had an wound with her dad.. suddenly she croched down to the hight of my knees.. and looked up at me , and walked around me…   then she said yes.. a deep wound.. and how she hated him….
          telling her she needed to forgive her dad to have a relationship with her husband that would last…

    • LizEst

       Very insightful. I hope this woman gets some help. Did you pray with her?

      • judeen

        with her.. a rosary… she did decide she had to work at forgiving her dad…. I only saw her 1 day

  • judeen

      our root sin is always there I think… until we master our weakness.
      also I have seen a list of demons . some are the mager 1’s that bring in little ones… to bind the biggest 1 in Jesus Christs name then work to get rid of the little 1.s  to be free , in Jesus Christs ways… and pray for the virtues a nd graces from God to over come evil and reject it. ( this is for the more spiritual people who help others get back on track with God

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