I recently participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, beginning my confession in traditional fashion, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was [insert amount of time].”
But this time my next line was different. “My predominant fault is ______.” I named it. I confronted it. I called it out. It was the next step in my personal journey towards freedom.
Each one of us has a predominant fault, a weakness within us that tends to be more prevalent than the others. Each person may have a different struggle. One may have intense battles with lust while the other is consumed with greed. Another may struggle with an all-consuming pride on his or her climb up the corporate ladder, while yet another may toil with a vision-less apathy that borders on sloth. It’s important to understand that we don’t all trod the exact same pathway towards freedom.
“Go in to Pharaoh, and say to him...“Let my people go…”(Exodus 9:1). In a very specific, tangible and personal way, I confronted Pharaoh. I went face-to-face with the deep-seated source of my bondage. Now don’t get me wrong, knowing it and naming it did not instantly grant me outright and efficacious freedom (just ask the Israelites!), but it was a huge step in the right direction. This concept of discovering your predominant fault has been a part of the rich history of spirituality within the Church for centuries. Nonetheless, only recently did I discover the phrase “naming your Pharaoh” in Fr. Dave Pivonka’s book “Spiritual Freedom,” and absolutely love it!
Now let’s take a step back for a moment. There are enemies in the spiritual life and regrettably, we are born with an innate impulse towards them. Newsflash – we bear a tendency and propensity towards sin! It’s known as concupiscence, and the more we give into it, the more power it has in our lives. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).
The flesh, the world and the devil; three areas that give us the most trouble. They are the big three; the three-headed monster so to speak. Properly speaking, these are our greatest enemies because they simultaneously separate us from God, separate us from the desires of our heart and enslave us to sin. While it’s true that you and I did not personally choose to receive original sin, we certainly are guilty for choosing to sin through our own free will. We can’t just blame Adam and Eve; we have all taken a bite from the forbidden fruit at one time or another.
If you are in a war, you have to know your enemies intimately and with great detail. Identifying who or what you are up against and building a clear and winning strategy is essential to enduring a positive outcome. Does anyone ever win a war by merely playing defense, continually retreating and building up walls while the enemy surrounds you from every direction? While maintaining a defensive stature and position is key, you must also go on the offensive and attack! As we continue the journey, we will learn both offensive and defensive maneuvers, but knowing our enemy must come first. It’s mission critical. We shall target the very source of our bondage and then confront it with the same passion and potency as Moses did with Pharaoh.
Imagine knowing the source of your bondage with clarity and then establishing a plan to build strength specifically in that area. What difference would that make? Tomorrow our three enemies will turn to seven (the seven deadly sins) and things will get even more personal. But before we go there, I would like to tell you the second half of my confession story with the good and wise priest. Father said, “Now I will give you the secret to the spiritual life. You must understand these (your sins) as enemies. You must understand you are at war against these enemies. But don’t beat yourself up over these. Instead, with Christ, you must fight against them, not against yourself. In order to win a war, a soldier should never go into battle with self-inflicted wounds.”
This advice is beyond wise – it’s pure gold! Don’t allow your sins or your bondage to lead you to lose hope and despair. Despondency is a straight shot from the enemy on the battlefield for your soul. If you know your enemy, have Christ at your side, infused with the desire for authentic freedom and the willpower to fight, you are well on your way to winning the war. The battles won’t be easy, but looking back you will reflect upon and find pleasure in the greatest and most fruitful adventure of your life.
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God...because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God...and not only the creation, but we ourselves … What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:19-32)