Categories: Ave Maria Press1465 words5.7 min readBy Published On: June 14, 2024

Five Excellent Means to Resist Sins in the Mind

The Fatima Center

Sin Enters through the Senses

As a recap of the article “Does Sin Gain Entry Through the Imagination?”, the Church emphasizes the importance of a well-formed imagination for the good of the soul. While a natural and necessary faculty of the human mind, the imagination can also be a source of temptation and sin when it is not properly regulated.

Everyone has a grave responsibility to ensure that sensory perceptions (i.e., what we see, hear, listen to, touch) aid the soul. After sinful perceptions enter the imagination’s process of abstract thinking, it is incredibly difficult to undo. Sin can enter through the imagination in several ways: impure thoughts, temptations, and the formation of wrong judgments, among others.

To resist sins in the mind, we must guard our senses, do penance, practice virtue habitually, and strengthen our souls with the powerful help that God has given us in the Sacraments and Sacramentals.

Five Excellent Means to Resist Sins in the Mind

[1] Prayer: “Without Me, you can do nothing.” These words of Our Lord addressed to His disciples are as true now for us as they were then. We cannot save ourselves by our own efforts alone. In all temptations, and to avoid future sins, we must have recourse to prayer. Daily mental prayer, spiritual reading, liturgical prayer, and vocal prayer are all extremely important. Pray the Rosary daily. Assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as often as possible. Make time for morning and evening prayers, which must include mental prayer. There is no substitute for prayer.[1]

Yet despite the absolute importance of prayer, many Catholics, even faithful ones, fail to pray as they ought. It may be that our faith is weak and inconstant. It may be that we don’t “see” the results we expect. It may be that we lack patience. The only remedy: prayer! It may be that prayer is hard. It is mentally taxing and can be physically exhausting. It requires discipline and perseverance. The only remedy: develop the habit of prayer by praying consistently.

If we don’t develop the habit of frequent – constant – prayer, then when we are tempted, we won’t have prompt recourse to prayer. It is then far more likely that we will fall. We do well to heed St. Alphonsus Liguori, who said quite simply:

“Whoever prays is certainly saved. He who does not is certainly damned.”

St. Alphonsus continues, explaining:

“All the blessed have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying. If they had prayed, they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be, their greatest torment in hell: to think how easily they might have been saved, just by asking God for His grace, but that now it is too late – their time of prayer is gone.”

[2] Virtue Formation: Cultivating virtues such as humility, patience, chastity, and self-control through regular practice and self-discipline helps to strengthen the mind against sinful thoughts. Virtues are formed through habitual repetition. If we regularly practice gratitude, patience, kindness, modesty, or any of the virtues, they will over time become easier.

Moreover, grace builds on nature. Thus, as we strive to develop natural virtues through habitual action, and persevere in sanctifying grace, then those same virtues are perfected and elevated to a supernatural level by grace. And when these virtues make up “who we are,” we will be less inclined to sin in the mind – or to associate with situations, places, and people who lead us to sin.

[3] Fasting: St. Thomas Aquinas writes that fasting is practiced for a threefold purpose, the first two of which are directly applicable to resisting sins in the mind:

“First, in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh… Secondly, we have recourse to fasting in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things: hence it is related of Daniel that he received a revelation from God after fasting for three weeks. Thirdly, in order to satisfy for sins: wherefore it is written: ‘Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.’”

St. Thomas reiterates this by then quoting from a sermon of St. Augustine:

“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.”

[4] Discipline the Senses: The discipline of the senses (e.g., seeing, hearing) should also generally accompany those seeking to perform penance and grow in virtue. Discipline of the eyes will greatly aid those seeking to resist sins in the mind. While fasting is a powerful means to bridle temptations and raise the mind to contemplate heavenly things, conquering human tendencies to sin also requires the proper use of all the senses.

To this end, incorporating the suggestions of Father Athanasius Iskander as quoted from Practical Spirituality would be a worthwhile endeavor. For the discipline of the eyes, he counsels: “There are many verses in the Bible that exhort us to discipline our eyes.” For example:

  • “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness” (Matt 6:22-23).
  • “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt 5:29).
  • “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt 5:28).

Father Iskander then explains why discipline of our eyes is very difficult today.

“In the old times keeping the eye pure was not very difficult. The commandment Do not look upon a woman in lust’ was not difficult to follow, for women in those days were properly dressed and mostly covered up. Today, however, it is very difficult to keep an eye on encountering offenses. Not only has the dress code become so offensive, but there are so many ways that the devil, the salesman of sin, can introduce impurity into the eyes.”

[5] Frequent Reception of the Sacraments: Regular participation in the Sacraments, particularly, Confession and Holy Communion, provides grace and strength to resist sin. The Sacraments actually give us grace. And Holy Communion not only provides us with a means to grow in virtue and resist future sins, the Sacrament even remits venial sins –although we may never receive Holy Communion without prior Sacramental Confession for mortal sins.[2]

Conclusion

St. Bede the Venerable counsels:

“…we must realize that the worst temptations and trials, whether brought by evil spirits or by men, can all be overcome by praying and fasting. Moreover, these serve us as singular means for making atonement when God’s just answer has been stirred up by our sins. Now fasting, in a wider sense, means more than restrictions on food. It means keeping all the allurements of the flesh at a distance; indeed, keeping oneself from every sinful passion. Likewise, prayer, in a wider sense, must consist of more than mere words beseeching God’s mercy; it embraces everything we do with a dedicated spirit of faith in the service of the Creator.”

Hence, the arms of prayer and fasting, along with the custody of the senses, are of paramount importance for resisting sins in the mind.


ENDNOTES:

[1] As an additional help, combining prayer with penance can be very effective. For instance, in addition to praying 3 Hail Mary’s each day for purity, we will likely benefit more from doing them while kneeling. Some priests will even encourage a person to kneel with their hands under their knees as a small amount of physical discomfort as additional penance. Penance, when mixed with prayer, can be very effective. We see the importance of prayer and penance in the lives of the children of Fatima. It was never only prayer – it was always prayer with penance. On August 19, 1917, Our Lady told the three shepherd children: “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

[2] Separate from the Sacraments, Sacramentals can also be a powerful means to resist sins. You can read more about Sacramentals at https://fatima.org/news-views/what-are-sacramentals-and-why-have-them-blessed/

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