Long before I entered the seminary, I was talking to a young woman and asked about her prayer life. She told me, “I have to overcome some of my sins before I go to God in prayer.” I told her she had it backwards. We go to God in prayer even while sinners, to seek the strength to overcome our sins.
To deny that we can overcome our temptations is to deny our freedom. But we all have a certain amount of freedom. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
“As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach” (no. 1732).
In order to exercise freedom, we must make progress in “virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis (self-denial)” (no. 1734). Granted, our responsibility can be reduced under certain conditions: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (no. 1735).
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