SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

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 RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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