My advice to a discouraged young man struggling with an habitual sin

On my “Open Line” radio show last week, a 25 year-old man called to discuss his plight of not being able to overcome a serious sinful habit. In his dejection over his powerlessness to conquer the problem, he had given up and abandoned the Catholic Church and the sacraments, hopeless that he could ever be freed from his enslavement. I did my best to offer him some words of encouragement and advice. (Click the pic to listen.)


  1. doanli aka "orange blossom"

    I have encountered the same problem and stayed away from prayer and the practice of my Faith because of it.I would tell him to just pray "Jesus, help me." when he is tempted. Our Lord is all Mercy, wants, and loves him…like he does us all.Our Blessed Mother is right in there too…maybe the caller should get know them better.Sorry if this comment is long, but I'm very familiar with this feeling.


    This response is crazy to me…I had settled in to each and every one of my habitual sins and am still resolving them one by one for years..I learned these sins as a teenager and could only think of the church , the sacraments, the rosary especially confession to overcome each one..why in the world would anyone leave the church when the church and all it teaches is the cure for sin???? Hello, I am thankful that my Catholic education back in the 60's was one that taught me where to come after I was done 'sinning with the rest of the world.'oh, the world! He needs to read the lives of the saints,and the classic Catholic books..

  3. Erin

    Thank-you so much for this post!! I have been going through alot of things like this and the way you talked about the whole issue. It just made alot of sense. I think I am going to get my rosery back out again! Please pray for me. Thank-you. God bless you and you family,Erin

  4. Anonymous

    Some of us feel separated. Yes, a lot of us know in our minds that there is no sin that cannot be overcome, and that there are many promises to free us, that there is a paraclete, that there are angels, and saints, and our Blessed Mother, and the Lord, Creator of the Universe who did what He did for us…And yet, in our hearts we feel the guilt, and the separation that sin brings into our lives. If you can see sin for what it is, and through the means God find freedom: Awesome. But, unfortunately it's not the same for all of us.

  5. Patrick Madrid

    Anonymous 11:53, cheer up. All is not lost. Luke 15:11-24 has a timely message for you. Take heart!

  6. Patrick Madrid

    You got it, Erin. God bless you, lass, and please do say a few decades for me, while you're at it.

  7. Anonymous

    Even Saint Paul wrote in Romans about how he struggled to do the right thing. Repeated sin is very common, but keep hope — we do overcome it with God's grace. There are some practical steps one can take. Sin is often enabled by occasion or place. Make an overt act to disrupt the routine that permits the sin and ideally put something else in its place that edifies your soul. For me it was praying the liturgy of the hours and feeling regularly more connected with the faith of the church.

  8. Ky Person

    It took me several years to overcome an habitual sin I had fallen into, and more than one confession. I still struggle and probably always will. For me, reading the scriptures especially the passages where Jesus forgives the penitent sinners, then tells them to sin no more were the key.

  9. Anonymous

    Patrick-If the Catholic Church ever became the "go to" place for the overcoming of serious sin, particularly sexual addiction/sin which is rampant, it would mean the conversion of the nation.I was in thrall to this from age 13 to 33, and the conventional advice from priests who had probably kept their baptismal vows or had a brief exposure to mortal sin, was of no help. NO help. Make no mistake- I am a daily communicant and have a devotion to Our Lady and the saints. In other words, I am not a crypto-evangelical or crypto Pentecostal. Thing the thing that finally got me out was following the advice of Watchamn Nee in the Normal Christian Life: Pray for an inner revelation that when Christ died, you died. The sinful body was nailed to the cross. That is the way God deals with sin. Not gradual improvement of habits, but DEATH. I did that. Then, further following the advice of St. Paul, I "reckoned myself dead to sin and alive to God." THAT DID IT.The teaching of St. Thomas about habit, of which I had loads in high school, was of NO help.That plus an exorcism at a Pentecostal bible camp got me out- so that I could be the good Catholic I always wanted to be.Very ironic, but true.

  10. JustJohn

    We fall down, we get upWe fall down, we get upWe fall down, we get upAnd the saints are just the SinnersWho fall down and get up From 'We Fall Down' – Bob Carlisle

  11. c.

    Great posting, Patrick! Thank you.To David, as someone who has struggled with an habitual sin (cannot be sure that I am over it, yet.) and who is a convert (3 years now,) I can sympathize with your dilemna.Patrick's advice is sound. Any voice, feeling, or thought, that tells you that should not receive the sacraments is not anything that you should follow. Definitely lies. Evil wants to cull you from God's presence and His people. Always.To add a few more things to what Patrick offered as solutions that have helped me: 1) asking Jesus to help you when it occurs; 2) taking time to meditate at Adoration helped me see very clearly the depth of God's Love in a way I hadn't during RCIA; 3) changing the habit by doing something else — does it mean big changes like new friends, new activities, or new living circumstance? Not necessarily. Something as simple as brushing my teeth after a meal helped me with my problem lots, i.e. look for solutions in the small stuff; 4) pray for helpers–a new activity like sports, or good spiritual people to stand by you and to be your friends, or whatever good thing the Lord presents to you. Depending on the sin, putting yourself in a place away from people is kind of like denying yourself the sacraments. See above "cull you away from God's people."And finally, please be patient with yourself as you progress away from this sin. I used to expect quick turnarounds and I would get frustrated falling back time and again. Prayer, Patience and Perseverance.

  12. Phil

    Many people have been helped by going to the Catholic Website for pornography addiction and help with purity and chastity. It's called The Porn Effect and has an online brotherhood and fellowship which many of the brothers find very helpful.

  13. David

    I struggled with a serious habitual sin for decades, and was finally able to break free of it by frequent Confession (every two weeks) and LOTS of prayer. I've been free of it for over 3 years now, but I still go to Confession every two weeks.

  14. patrick wells

    I take Prozac for the side effect it has as a libido suppressent in 51% of its takers. It works wonderfully. I recommend you talk to your doctor about it.

  15. Diane at Te Deum

    patrick wells, Hopefully, you don't mean that people should take medication as opposed to the medicine offered by Holy Mother Church for these things. I think the caller did a great service to many people who may have been out there struggling with the same kind of thing. Sadly, poor formation in seminaries over the years, coupled with malformation about certain sins, left many souls without the kind of guidance provided by Patrick. I would add, that with any kind of sin that has become a forceful habit, it is good to find one good confessor, and stick with him. Don't be ashamed of going back to the same priest. Tell him it has gotten to the point of being an addiction if it has, and a good priest will patiently work with you, encouraging you to come back frequently. When a sin has become a forceful habit, the guilt is mitigated, but our obligation to persist in purifying ourselves of it remains. This is a very difficult period for those who suffer from sinful sexual addictions of any kind. You can't even go through a grocery store checkout or watch a prime-time television show without seeing things better left unseen. I also recommend spending time each evening reading from one of the saints or other Christian classics like the Imitation of Christ, even if it is just 15 minutes. St. Francis de Sales, "Introduction to the Devout Life" is a great place to start. St. Augustine's Confessions are also a good read, as well as the Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco. It is from these saints that we learn about virtue and how to deal with temptation.I have found that many confuse temptation with sin. We will always have temptation. It can come from within, from the Evil One, or it can be a test from God. However, think of temptation as a ladder that ought not be climbed. With each rung we willingly climb, the harder it will be to say "no" to climbing to the top (which is to fall into sin). Once up top, you fall harder than if you get off early. The moment you realize you are in the midst of temptation, it is important to "change the subject". If it hits when you are watching a TV show, shut it off and go for a run, or call a friend to chat. Better yet, pray the Rosary. I think it was Fr. Donald Calloway that pointed out that it may take 15-20 minutes to battle a temptation, which is just the length of a Rosary. In fact, given his past, which was loaded with drugs, women, and other vices, his book, "No Turning Back" would be a great read. One more point I would like to make that may be helpful for him, or others with regards to temptation. We must tame our will, lest our will tame us. With forceful habits or sinful addictions, the will has taken over (the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak). Don't avoid taming the will with little things, like saying no to sweets for a day, or giving up a televisionp program, or making yourself sit and talk with the elderly neighbor next door. You will find that in conquering the small things by God's grace, he infuses even more grace into the soul to take on the bigger battles. I would like the caller to know that he is in my prayers. With God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, all things are possible.

  16. Anonymous

    Prayer and more prayer! Three Aves early in the morning and just before bed asking for purity and humility that I might better develop the mind and the heart of Christ, the rosary every day, Mass as often as possible and confession at least every other week. The result – the freedom that is the inheritance of the children of God so rich in mercy!

  17. Anonymous

    After I heard the caller's question, I paused the tape for a while to think what my advice would be. When I resumed the tape, I was astonished with Patricks simple, clear answer, which I hadn't thought of – that David's feelings were the devil's lie, and must be rejected. Thanks so much for that. I struggle with frustration at confessing the same things week after week, and sometimes think of giving up, or taking a break from the church, so it is most helpful to be reminded that the most important thing is not to surrender to the devil's lie. Overcoming the sin is also important, but not as important rejecting the lie.I am reminded of some great advice I once received from an elderly Catholic – "You turn up, no matter what". That sums up Catholic practice to me 🙂

  18. William a sinner. Most unlearned. The Least of all the faithful…

    Awesome advice from Brother Madrid… You always can come home!!!! Lucifer wants you to despair, wants you to fail, to fall… We are all battling… fight the good fight, run the race, endure to the end brother…

  19. Rafael

    When it comes to the sin of impurity the main solution is the daily rosary. The rosary works. Either the sin is given up or the rosary is given up, because the rosary conquers habitual sin.One huge problem in today's modern world is the delayed maturity among young men and women. Too many young people are putting off their vocation to religious life or marriage and delaying it to their misfortune. Too many men in their 20's are delaying marriage unnecessarily and causing them to fall into sexual impurity for years when they should stop wasting time and find a spouse. The vocation of most men is to marry and there is a reason why one of the ends of marriage is not only procreation, but also as a remedy for concupiscence.

  20. Catholic Engineer

    I really needed to hear that. Thank you for your words of wisdom, Patrick.

  21. Patty Bonds

    Amen to all of that, Patrick. I would just add that we should never for a moment consider ourselves "out of the woods" when it comes to habitural sins. Be diligent always. I warned my Spiritual Director that if I ever fell into my own habitual pit again, I would be parked outside his confessional until I was delivered once again. Be viciously diligent to guard the gate of your mind.

  22. Anonymous

    Very strange that nothing was said of the need for mortification of the flesh. Nothing was said of it, though mortification is absolutely critical for overcoming especially sins of impurity! These mortifications need not be extravagant. They can take the form of abstaining from mustard or seasonings you like, of using cold water for the last minute of your shower….

  23. Elizabeth

    Dear Patrick,What a blessing this internet medium of yours truly is; particularly, this article. Your wise counsel proved necessary for my ears, as Satan has oft attempted to bring me from the safety and beauty of our Holy Mother Church.May Christ always guide my fragile soul from the demons of Hell, shielding all His children from the inherently evil qualities of sin.Deo Gratias,Elizabeth

  24. Anonymous

    I wrote the previous post about how surprised I was, positively, by Patricks first response (see 8:42 AM).After thinking about this a while longer, I want to add a critical remark. I don't think that Patrick, or other people, should be advising someone "pray the rosary and you will be quickly healed". Certainly, recommend the rosay, but I don't think you can declare such a certain outcome. First of all, it is putting God to the test – God has not promised this outcome. Secondly, what if it doesn't work for someone, in say 6 months, or even 5 years? They might become discouraged, and think they are particularly bad because the rosary hasn't worked for them. Thirdly, sin and habit are deep, mysterious, and unknowable things. The person's habitual sin may the result of another issue which requires medical, not spiritual, treatment. An excessive focus on prayers may actually divert attention from what the person really needs to be doing to get their life in order.

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