Overcoming sin and temptation involves learning to identify, process, and let go of disordered patterns of thinking, feeling, and desiring. These patterns have deep roots, and as we learn to explore our interior life under the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will come to a place of greater stillness and interior freedom.
Such interior harmony gives us the opportunity to receive Christ’s unconditional love and deepen our response to His grace.
The 5 steps serve as a guide to help us in our quest for greater intimacy with Jesus Christ.
Learning to gaze upon our experience without ready-made labels is an integral part of spiritual maturity. Often, when we encounter a disordered thought, feeling, or desire, our immediate attempt is to try and rid ourselves of the discomfort as soon as possible. By cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of what we are experiencing, we learn to move beyond labels and to rest in our discomfort and suffering.
When I am counseling people, there is a general progression that ultimately leads to sin. First, there is stress and anxiety. In time, this weakens the will and leads to venial sins. As venial sins grow in their strength and frequency, the will is damaged to the point that it now begins to entertain mortal sins because it is looking for an escape from the disorders that populate the heart.
We can cut this process off at its earliest stages by becoming more observant of the signs of disorder within our interior life.
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Having observed our experience with nonjudgmental awareness, we now want to begin the steps of processing these experiences under the loving gaze of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we can imagine our Lord Jesus Christ, and, in a way that makes sense to us, relate our experience to him with openness and abandonment. Our relating need not be as intellectual as the language might suggest. It can involve an almost intuitive and emotional pouring out of our hearts to the Lord. It can also involve tears and other bodily forms of devotion.
Having related to the Lord our experience, we now must use our intuitive sense of who Jesus is to explore the inspirations which arise. In this way, we learn to receive inspirations and carefully seek those movements of the heart which are the work of the Holy Spirit. Learning to discover God’s will is often called “discernment,” and much has been written on the topic. For more information on discernment, see the work of Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV as just one example of the good work done on this topic. He and others like him write out of the tradition that comes from St. Ignatius of Loyola, and it is probably the most succinct and applicable form of discerning God’s voice.
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Having discerned an inspiration as being the work of the Holy Spirit, we now must respond to the voice of God with gratitude, faith, hope, and love. In this way, we must learn to enter into familiar dialogue with God so as to stir into flames the fire of devotion.
5. Let Go
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In time, as we have observed and processed the disorders of the human heart in our ongoing walk with the Lord, we must come to a point where we learn to let go of the lies and illusions which prevent us from reaching our full potential in Christ. In this way, we can either actively or passively learn to let go. In terms of actively learning to reject the work of Satan, I recommend the work of Neal Lozano on what is called Deliverance Prayer. I first learned of his work when I was studying at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, and I have found his 5 Keys of Deliverance to be incredibly helpful.
Passive letting go is relatively simple. As the disorders of the heart are exposed and they begin to lose steam, we can safely watch them leave our awareness without much struggle or resistance. However, such letting go is a real grace that comes gradually as we learn to observe and process our disorders.
These 5 steps are a guide to what is called mental prayer or meditation. The assumption is that anyone who engages in mental prayer is already living a sacramental life, participating in both regular Confession and frequent Communion, and that such a person has a loving familiarity with the Scripture. One need not be perfect or an expert, but the prerequisite is that we must be nourishing our mind, body, and spirit with Divine Revelation and the Sacraments.