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?
The 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.