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Catholic Spiritual Direction

A new diagnosis of my root sin…

A New Diagnosis of my Root Sin…

I was back in my home state and surprised to get the call. I couldn’t imagine what it would be about. I was in the Texas emergency room one week earlier after air travel triggered debilitating imbalance so severe that I couldn’t even walk on my own. The doctor discovered something in the x-ray of my brain when I was in the emergency room. “You need a more in-depth review of this situation” she said. So, I began the long and incredibly stressful journey to learn about the out-of-place stuff in the middle of my head.

This sounds like a traumatic event, and it was. But, after suffering from inexplicable symptoms for so many years, it brought me a measure of relief. If we could determine the root cause of my suffering, there was at least some hope of a remedy. So, though some would see news like this as tragic, for me it was a blessing, the beginning of healing.

Parallel with the basic elements of this experience, I recently had a revelation about my root sin. Years prior, I had, with my spiritual director, diagnosed it as sensuality. This was primarily due to specific struggles or symptoms I was experiencing because of severe health challenges. At that time, most of my battle with sin had some connection to my physical suffering. Constant pain and other symptoms revealed much in me that was far less than Christ-like. By God’s mercy, the pain and other suffering has decreased dramatically and I have moved back into a more tolerable state of health.

Since that time I ended up working on a project with a holy and insightful priest. One day during a personal conversation I revealed my root sin to him and he replied, “I would have never guessed that sensuality is your root sin.” I was surprised because he had come to know me very well. I asked him, with some measure of discomfort, “How would you diagnose my root sin? “Pride” he said. My heart sank. “Pride” I thought, “this is an ugly sin.” “This can’t be my sin.” “I am far too reasonable and open to feedback.” “I am far too aware of my own sin and spiritual frailty.” I smiled at the foolishness of my reaction and I suspected that he was right.

So, I went back the the drawing board. I decided to dig in to see if he was right. I talked to my spiritual director and then I went back over the symptoms of each of the root sins. For about a week I took notes every time I acted in a manner that did not seem in keeping with the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). As you might guess, to my dismay, I discovered he was right.

Though this was a painful discovery, it was also a powerful one. My root sin had not changed, but circumstances forced me to focus elsewhere for a time. This was not a bad thing in any way. The pursuit of holiness, even in this sideways manner, is always good. I was able to overcome, by God’s help, some behavior patterns that should not have been present in me, even when suffering. Now, I had to reboot my perspective, rework my program of life, and dig in again.

Sometimes we misdiagnose our root sins based on delusion and sometimes because of circumstances. In my case, being painfully honest, it was both. It was easy to focus on sins related to my illness, but, I also did not want to believe that my root sin was pride. In fact, I took some pride in my ability to overcome my illness in the way had! My struggles and ability to overcome challenges in this area seemed far more noble than a battle against other sins (pride, pride, pride). Interestingly enough, pride was the initial diagnosis of my first spiritual director. I rejected that diagnosis for many reasons. In summary, I was simply deluded and distracted.

The good news is that we don’t have to obsess over whether or not we have achieved a perfect diagnosis of our root sin. What we need to do is make an approximate determination and aggressively move forward in the battle against anything that keeps us from fully loving and serving God and neighbor. It is a painful and inexact process. However, the Holy Spirit will, in due time, always reveal what we need to know and when we need to know it as long as we seek and are open his leading.

As Saint Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I am confident that He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Blessings to you and yours from the halls of the interior castle,


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  • Shadow

    Loved it, thank you.

  • $1650412

    I really appreciate this post. I think I am going through a similar kind of discernment- but whichever dominant aspect of my own hellish hydra I need to be hacking at this week, month, year, decade- thay are all equally icky and degrading to even have to acknowlege contending with, but we ALL have them! (Spoken like the vanity-afflicted that I am, there!)
    That a person would even humbly offer this story by way of encouragement speaks volumes on the success of means the author has employed to discern and overcome his or her dominant fault- thank you!

  • Guest

    This is a wonderful post. It encourages me to face my many-headed root sins and reveals to me the urgency of begining my sessions with my Spiritual Director if I have to make a move now. I must confess over and above everything that is wrong with me, procrastination has kept me pinned to the ground. Your post is a wake-up- call for me. God bless you

  • Becky

    God works in mysterious ways.

    I didn’t learn there was such a thing as a ‘root’ sin until recently although I am in a faith formation program and have been receiving spiritual direction for four years now. We develop a ‘Plan of Life’ through prayer and reflecting on the experiences in our life. The next phase is learning discernment with the aid of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the work of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and other spiritual masters…………….all our work is related to our plan of life, which is specific and unique. Throughout, we come to see how the Lord talks to us and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will place before us, that which He wishes us to pay attention to.

    I have recently had a couple memories surface in prayer and am amazed that I had forgotten (repressed) them………………yet I see that it was Gods way of protecting me until I was ready to deal with them.

    The same thing has happened regarding sin……………..there have been areas of sin that I was not ready to face, and God in His goodness and mercy hid them from me until I was able to accept and work on them. While I am very well balanced in the area of sin :), I believe my ‘root’ sin is vanity. I would LOVE for it to be pride! Yet there is a certain joy in comprehending the TRUTH about myself, and being able to share and work on it with the Lord.

    I have discovered an excellent book for those who wish to delve more deeply into this subject. Here are the details:

    The title is, ‘Bathe Seven Times’ A Contemplative Look at the Seven Capital Sins an it was written by Mother Nadine of Intercessors of the Lamb.

    I enjoy, as always, how much we can learn from one another!

    God Bless!

  • Marie

    I too like Jo and Becky have great appreciation for this posting….I am struggling with my root sin and “in coming clean” so to speak with not only myself but also with my spiritual director/confessor. I feel awful, have no peace or interior freedom and simply needed something to move me in the right direction. I will be praying for all of you…please pray for me during this month of the Rosary.