Many thanks to the Homiletic and Pastoral Review for publishing this article on moral perfection!
All humans struggle with moral perfection, and temptations to sin are ever-present. Jesus tells us, “Temptations to sin are sure to come . . .” (Lk 17:1; RSV-CE). Yet Jesus, the Catholic Church, and Sacred Scripture call us to moral perfection in this life. Jesus says, “You, therefore, must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48), a precept proclaimed between teachings that command stricter moral adherence than was taught in the Old Testament (Mt 5–7). So it seems that Jesus is demanding the impossible. Yet we also know that God gives His children the grace to combat sin, to do good, and to be morally perfect. And Jesus teaches us that all things are possible with God (Mt 19:26).
In Matthew 5–7, Jesus clearly tells us that not only must our exterior actions be holy, but our interior impulses and desires must be as well. This passage presumes our ability to distinguish between the categories of sin one can commit. Too often, though, we see the mortal sins in our lives but fail to identify the venial sins. And, too often, clergy and laity are unable to provide adequate explanations of venial sins. How many times have you heard someone say, “A venial sin is not serious,” or “A venial sin is like stealing a dollar versus a thousand dollars”? Additionally, we sometimes confuse venial sin with temptation because we do not have clear principles for distinguishing between them.
So, to help us move closer to moral perfection, this article will dissect the Church’s teachings, select scriptural passages, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ elucidation on this topic. It will show that Christ calls us to moral perfection in this life and provide principles for distinguishing between mortal and venial sins. When we correctly understand what sin is and distinguish between its categories, we can better identify them, root them out, and, with the power of grace, move toward that perfection of which Jesus speaks and the Church perennially teaches.
As a cautionary note, please understand that the true pursuit of moral perfection does not occur in a vacuum, and it is not instantaneous but a journey. As people of God, we must pursue moral perfection with an unwavering belief that God loves us into being, that we must love Him above all else, that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, that we often need our neighbors’ help, and that God gives us the grace to do these things in a spiritually healthy way.
In fact, we say along with St. John that “we love, because He first loved us,” and “let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 Jn 4). So, by loving God above all else, we come to the knowledge that molds our minds and hearts, equips us to love ourselves and our neighbors, and helps us to move ever closer to moral perfection. By understanding God’s love for us, that is, by understanding that the perfectly happy God loves us into being and designs us to be happy in Him, we can better avoid the kind of self-scrutiny that leads to scrupulosity, or worse, despair.
We must also avoid the error that willpower alone will move us closer to moral perfection. Although willpower, or rather, the will’s cooperation with God’s grace, is necessary, berating oneself after every fall will lead to constant discouragement and loss of hope. Instead, if/when we fall, we should look at it as a learning and humbling experience, an example of human weakness, the need to rely on grace, and an opportunity to become stronger through practicing the virtues. After all, vice can only be overcome by practicing virtuous behavior, receiving the sacraments, loving God, and allowing Him to love you. We all struggle with the effects of Original and personal sins, which include ignorance and disordered tendencies toward sinful objects. Thankfully, God, the perfect Father, walks with His children to help us overcome these obstacles, progressively making us better images of Him.
The Catholic Church’s Teaching on Moral Perfection
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “‘All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.‘ All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”1
In order to reach this perfection, the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus, the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.2
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.3
Select Bible Verses On Moral Perfection
Holy Scripture contains numerous verses and passages on moral perfection. I have counted at least seventy of them in the New Testament alone. Below are six verses in which Scripture commands perfection. Notice that verses two through four reiterate Jesus’ words in Matthew 5.
- Matthew 5:48 – You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- 1 John 3:3 – And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure (be pure as your heavenly Father is pure).
- 1 John 3:7 – Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as He is righteous (be righteous as your heavenly Father is righteous).
- 1 Peter 1:16 – . . . it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (be holy as your heavenly Father is holy).
- 2 Corinthians 7:1 – Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from everydefilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.
- Hebrews 12:14 – Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Here are some additional verses on which to reflect: Galatians 5:24 says we must “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” 2 Peter 3:14 states that we must be “zealous to be found by [God] without spot or blemish.” St. Peter again writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth . . . love one another” (1 Pt 1:22). St. Paul writes, “. . . no immoral or impure man . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). In 1 Thessalonians 5:22, St. Paul commands us to “abstain from every form of evil.” And, finally, St. James exhorts us to “let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Js 1:4).
St. Thomas Aquinas’ Explication On Moral Perfection
In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas insists that one can attain moral perfection in this life.4 He writes that moral perfection consists in charity and “implies a certain universality because ‘the perfect is that which lacks nothing.’” Then he examines a threefold perfection; one found in God alone, one found in the saints in heaven, and one found in those of us still journeying on earth.
The first perfection is absolute and belongs to God alone, Who is infinite and eternal. The second perfection belongs to the saints in heaven whose affections, desires, and actions “always actually” tend toward God, since they have nothing to hinder or distract them.
The third perfection pertains to those of us in this life. Thomas says this perfection concerns the “removal of obstacles to the movement of love towards God.” “Such perfection as this,” Thomas writes, “can be had in two ways.” First, we can remove all that is contrary to charity (i.e., mortal sin), and “there can be no charity apart from this perfection.” This perfection is urgent because it is contrary to grace and, without grace, we cannot enter heaven. Scripture tells us that we do not know the day nor the hour of our Lord’s coming, and that His day will come like a thief.
Additionally, we must remove “whatever hinders the mind’s affections [i.e., disordered attachments and impulsive acts, commonly called venial sin] from tending wholly to God.” Until one removes all venial sins, charity exists in the soul, but perfect charity does not. The Eastern Catholics have a word for this perfect charity abiding in the soul — theosis. In the western Church, we call this perfection deification.
Theosis, or deification, is a dying to oneself (mortification) and a living for God by loving Him so much that one drives all sin out of his life and focuses on the good to which God calls him. This perfection is a journey, and a difficult one at that. Colloquially, it is a marathon, not a sprint. The reason for this prolonged journey is because grace abides in the soul to help us perfect ourselves in charity rather than force us to do so in an instant. In the words of St. Thomas, grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it. Thus, God calls us to cooperate with sanctifying grace to identify and root out venial sins. This rooting out will not happen immediately, but it can begin immediately.
Accordingly, the trajectory for perfection is 1) a turning to and trusting in God, 2) using His grace to stop committing mortal sins, 3) understanding that venial sins are easier to commit than mortal sins, and 4) journeying with grace to drive out venial sin by re-habituating one’s inclinations toward virtuous behavior. Re-habituating these inclinations typically requires years, if not decades, of cooperation with grace. Even the saints may have some imperfections or occasions of venial sins at the end of their lives. But the awareness that we may not achieve complete purgation of all venial sin in this life does not remove the obligation to root them out and increase in charity.
Father Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., a French Dominican theologian, posits, “The perfection possible on earth includes [the removal of] everything that is contrary to the love of God, that is, mortal sin, and also all that hinders our love from being completely directed toward God.” He draws attention to the stages of beginner, proficient, and perfect, of which St. Thomas writes, and adds, “According to these principles formulated by St. Thomas, the perfection of charity in the perfect excludes not only mortal sin and fully deliberate venial sin, but also voluntary imperfections, such as lesser generosity in the service of God and the habit of acting in an imperfect manner.”5
Prayer, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and both active and passive purifications permit this gradual strengthening of charity. The full purification of charity is not possible through human efforts of mortification alone.
Removing Mortal and Venial Sin
The proper order of charity is to love God above all else and then others as ourselves, which implies we are to love God above ourselves. Unfortunately, because of our fallen nature, we sometimes place ourselves above God. When one sins mortally, one places the created object and oneself above God by preferring the created object and oneself more than God.
Therefore, mortal sin removes grace (i.e., God’s favor/life) and supernatural charity (i.e., God’s love) from the soul. Mortal sin is our way of saying, I do not want grace right now. When this happens, a sin cannot be forgiven outside the confessional (certain exigencies along with perfect contrition excepted) because sanctifying grace and charity no longer exist in the soul.
Conversely, since venial sin does not remove grace and charity from the soul, one can be forgiven outside the confessional by the very grace and supernatural charity that continue to inhere in the soul. Because these supernatural qualities inhere, we are forgiven the moment we express contrition (i.e., sorrow out of love for God). It occurs immediately because God’s grace remains in us. In other words, we have the “stuff” in us that forgives sin, God’s grace and love.
With mortal sin, however, we willfully separate ourselves from grace, charity, and Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, and no longer have the “stuff” in us to forgive our sins. Accordingly, we must come to God through Christ’s Body, the Church, in the confessional for re-entry. If we enter the Church via the Sacrament of Baptism, which the Church administers, we re-enter via the Sacrament of Confession, which the Church also administers.
The Church always has God’s grace to forgive sins because it is Christ’s Body, ever-connected to the Head, Christ (Mt 16:18). God also gives the Church the mission to forgive sins (Jn 20:22–23), and she carries out that duty faithfully in every generation. Thus, sacramental grace flows from the Head to the Mystical Body so that the Body can heal its members.
A more detailed analysis of sin, especially venial sin, is necessary to help us identify and remove it. However, before delving into venial sin, we should have a solid understanding of temptation, sin in general, and mortal sin. With proper conceptions of temptation and mortal sin, we can know what venial sin is not.
Temptation is not synonymous with venial sin, and venial sin is not a temptation with a higher degree of intensity. Rather, temptation (literally, to test) is an internal or external incitement to sin.6 Provided one does not will a temptation, one does not sin. Let us take for example an alcoholic who has been sober for a couple of years.
On this gentleman’s birthday, a friend gives him a bottle of scotch, not knowing he is a recovering alcoholic. The bottle of scotch tempts the man to drunkenness; it incites or provokes the man to sin. If the man resists the temptation to touch the drink, successfully battling it with grace, prayer, and trust in God, he does not sin at all. Instead, he remains in a state of grace.
Notice that the scotch tempted the man, but he did not move (mentally or physically) toward the sin. Rather, he turned to God in prayer and resisted the temptation’s allure. The man was tested, passed the test, and grew stronger in grace. We know from Church teaching and experience that the more we practice a good (or evil) behavior the easier it becomes to repeat it. Thus, the more this man resists temptations, the easier it will be to routinely resist them.
The Morality of Human Acts
Besides temptation, we should also know what sin is, generally, and how we can determine if an act is sinful. “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.”7
The Catholic Church teaches that the morality of human acts depends on 1) the object chosen (act, word, thought, or omission; the thing you did or should have done); 2) the end or purpose in view; and 3) the circumstances surrounding the action. All three elements must be good for the action to be good.
For instance, helping an elderly woman cross a street (good object) that is busy (circumstance) to get her to the other side safely (purpose) is a good deed. However, helping her cross the street can become sinful if one does it after robbing a store (circumstance) to blend in with the crowd and evade police (purpose).
The contrast is clear. Both objects are good, but the man in the second scenario sullied the act with his evil intent. Therefore, helping the woman cross the street becomes subjectively evil. For additional information about the elements of moral acts, read Catechism paragraphs 1750–1761.
Mortal sin removes God’s life and charity (i.e., grace) from the soul through conduct that is contrary to grace. Three conditions must be present for a sin to be deadly:
- grave matter (see below),
- sought with full knowledge that the act is evil, and
- deliberate consent of the will.
All three elements must be present for an action to be deadly. Additionally, pretended ignorance and vincible ignorance are not excuses for sinful behavior and can even increase guilt.8
Please note that the Catechism describes grave matter as grave because it severs, even if for a short time, our filial relationship with God, Who should be the ultimate end of all our actions. Every good thing we do and every evil we reject should ultimately be for God and with God, continually building a loving relationship with Him and becoming ever more virtuous.
Examples of grave matter are contained in the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins (i.e., pride, lust, envy, greed, sloth, wrath, and gluttony) and the five precepts of the Church. Additionally, St. Paul lists mortal sins in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, Galatians 5 19–21, Ephesians 5:3–6, and 1 Timothy 1:8–11.
A concrete example of mortal sin today is contracepting, an intentional action designed to remove conception and union from sexual intercourse. If someone contracepts (grave matter because it is a lustful action that opposes God’s design for sexual intercourse) with full knowledge that it is sinful and with complete consent of the will, that person sins mortally. Because contracepting is a completed act against human nature and the Nature-Giver, it is anti-grace and, therefore, is a request to have grace withdrawn from the soul. For more details, replete with Bible verses, read Catechism paragraphs 1852–1861.
Venial simply means “pardonable.” As previously mentioned, venial sin is pardoned at the moment of contrition because grace remains in the soul. Conversely, mortal sin, which causes grace to be withdrawn from the soul, requires contrition and confession to a priest, which I also mentioned above. A person commits a venial sin in one of three ways, when:
- in a less serious matter, when one does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or
- disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or
- without complete consent of the will.9
Accordingly, we can become guilty of venial sin in a few ways: First, regarding less serious matter, it is not a lesser quantity of some sinful act (more or less unjust anger for example) but a lesser quality (irritation vs. unjust anger).10 Grave matter is complete in severity of quality because it fully opposes grace and the moral law. An act of lesser quality does not oppose grace but falls short of the standard of love and moral perfection for which God makes us. These tendencies include, among others, excessive attachments to the following:
- material goods but without greed or envy (i.e., grief concerning a physical or spiritual good our neighbor possesses),
- created beings (e.g., humans, animals) but without idolatry,
- self-love but without pride,
- irritation but without wrath,
- foolish talk but without gossip or perversion, and
- cynicism but without despair.
One might experience an excessive attachment to some created good or action after turning away from habitual mortal sin. For instance, a person might have lived an anger-filled life before becoming a Christian but turned away from anger after starting his journey with Christ. The remnants of habitual anger, such as being easily irritated, might continue to linger, but the tendency toward anger would not cause grace to be withdrawn, provided the person does not allow their irritation to become unjust anger. Yet, this irritation falls short of the standard of moral perfection and would, therefore, be venial.
Blessed Columba Marmion, a Benedictine monk, wrote a beautiful explanation for the consequences of deliberate or habitual venial sin versus venial sins that surprise us. He wrote,
In this matter we must make a necessary distinction. There are venial sins which slip out from us by surprise, which often result from our temperament, which we regret, which we seek to avoid. These are miseries that in no way prevent the soul from being in a high degree of union with God; they are wiped out by acts of charity, by a good Communion; and, further, they keep us humble.”
But what we must sovereignly fear are those venial sins which are habitual, or are fully deliberate. These are a real peril for the soul; they are a step, and too often a real step, towards a complete break with God. When — in practice, if not by word of mouth — a soul is in the habit of responding with a deliberate “No” to the will of God (in a small matter, since we are talking about venial sins), it cannot aspire to safeguarding the Divine union in that soul for long.11
More On Attachments to Created Goods
Some deeds do not oppose God’s commandments but involve inordinate fondness for created goods. St. Thomas Aquinas writes,
It is evident that in some sins there is disorder indeed, but such as not to [be contrary to] the last end . . . for instance, when a man is too fond of some temporal thing, yet would not offend God for its sake, by breaking one of His commandments. Consequently, such sins do not incur everlasting, but only temporal punishment.12
For example, a man purchases a Corvette and spends an inordinate amount of time detailing it, driving it, and showing it off to his friends. The time spent with his car has replaced time he previously spent with God (e.g., in prayer and Scripture reading). However, the man does not eliminate his time with God, does not skip Mass, and continues to fulfill his familial and societal obligations.
The man knows in his heart that he is spending too much time with his car and should be spending more time with God and his family, but he is simply having too much fun. Consequently, the man’s inordinate fondness for his car would be a venial sin. The problem with his behavior, in addition to being a venial sin, is that it could lead to spiritual sloth and idolatry, which are both mortal sins.
In this scenario, the man has preserved the right end of his actions (remaining in right relationship with God) because he has not elevated the new Corvette above God’s precepts and, therefore, above God. However, he has an inordinate attachment to the car that needs to be tempered by returning to the virtuous behavior he exercised before purchasing the car. Otherwise, by neglecting the spiritual discipline he had before purchasing the car, the man will slip into a state of spiritual tepidity and, eventually, into mortal sin.
Second, a person could do something sinful without full knowledge that the evil committed is truly grave. For instance, contracepting, which is grave matter, has been common in our society for the last two to three generations. So, if contracepting parents instruct their teenage daughter to contracept, the daughter, knowing her parents, grandparents, and friends use contraceptives, will probably not question its morality. Accordingly, she would lack full knowledge about the immorality of this act and would incur little to no culpability.
In this case, the matter (contracepting) is grave, and the intent is present, but the knowledge is absent. However, once the girl becomes aware that contracepting is immoral and continues to contracept, she would become culpable for her continued action and enter the state of mortal sin. Also, she has a moral obligation to seek truth regarding the morality of this matter. Again, intentional ignorance is not an excuse for sin and, as the Catechism states, it can even increase culpability.
St. Paul provides an excellent illustration of invincible ignorance in Romans 2:12–16. In this passage, St. Paul tells us that those who do not have the law are a law unto themselves and will be held accountable for their actions as they correspond to or deviate from the law written on their hearts. Their consciences will accuse or excuse them when God judges them according to the true Standard, Jesus Christ.
Third, a person could do something grave without consenting to it (i.e., accidentally or impulsively). This is especially true regarding accidental acts. Someone could kill another person in a car accident, for example, but depending on the level of negligence or complete lack thereof, the person would be guilty of venial sin or would not be guilty at all. (Clearly, this is not the same as legal culpability, which could be severe, even if the act was not intended.)
But what about an impulsive movement of the will toward an evil action? This movement is a response to temptation, but the impulse is not a mortal sin because thoughtful consent of the will is not present.
Rather, the sudden movement of the will toward the sinful object results from failing to impose discipline on the sense appetite. Another way to put this is that unruly passions, or disordered desires, rather than the intellect, govern the will in these situations. The disordered passion results in a sudden movement (some action, mental or physical) toward grave matter (drunkenness, for example). The person truly moves to obtain the evil object but does so without thinking, in an almost instinctive manner.
This lack of thought or lack of impulse control is key for distinguishing between mortal and venial sin in relation to impulsive actions. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas lays out some principles that will help guide our understanding of sudden movements of the will.
The Moderating Power of Reason
First, St. Thomas says that some actions are venial because they do not follow “the mode of reason which the [moral] law intends.”13 By “mode of reason,” St. Thomas explains that human actions must be governed by a properly formed intellect.14 A properly formed intellect results from prayerfully educating oneself in the faith and in the moral law.
“Mode of reason” simply means reason properly exercised. Reason should inform the will rather than the will acting without reason. This requires learning and discipline aided by grace. As people of the Word (i.e., the Truth), we are called to continual learning and self-discipline, following the perfect example of human behavior, Jesus Christ.
Although some sinful deeds are intentional, others are impulsive, that is, they lack reason’s moderating influence. St. Thomas notes that reason should put the brakes on the rise of passion, and when that “check” is absent, “the sudden rising of a movement of the sensuality in us is due to the sensuality not being perfectly subject to reason.”15 The good news is that if the power of reason eventually does intervene, the properly informed will can stop the sinful act and prevent it from becoming mortally sinful.
Returning to the alcohol example above, the recovering alcoholic is presented with an opportunity to get drunk (grave matter). Without thinking (sensuality not being perfectly subject to reason), he then grabs a glass and begins to pour the whiskey (sudden movement). At this moment, the fog of desire lifts, and the man realizes he must not go further. He decides not to drink and throws the alcohol in the trash.
In this scenario, the man was tempted, responded to the temptation by grabbing a glass and filling it with whiskey, realizes he must not drink it, and stops his movement toward intoxication. The man committed venial sin because, by failing to check his sensuality with reason, he moved toward drunkenness. Yet, he did not complete the act and commit a mortal sin.
Conversely, if he had moved toward this grave matter (drunkenness) with full deliberation (i.e., deliberately, with full intent to get drunk) his movement would have been mortal because he intentionally fixed his will on obtaining the grave matter. Even if something outside of himself, an emergency for example, prevented him from getting drunk, his will was fixed on grave matter, and he would be guilty of mortal sin. This fixing of the will on grave matter would oppose his relationship with God.
In essence, by fixing his will on drunkenness, the man is saying, I prefer to get drunk rather than continue in grace. The reason an urgent situation would not have alleviated the gentleman’s guilt of mortal sin is because, without the urgent situation, he would have gotten drunk. However, if he stopped the act by use of his intellectual and volitional powers, then it was likely that his will was never really fixed on the grave matter of drunkenness because he was vacillating between the two courses.
Juxtapose this scenario with the temptation scenario. In the temptation scenario, the recovering alcoholic never made a physical or mental movement toward drunkenness. Rather, he took hold of grace and successfully battled the temptation. In the venial sin scenario, the same man made a movement toward getting drunk. He poured the glass of whiskey because he did not take hold of that same grace to discipline his sense appetite. Therefore, he committed venial sin. Yet, he did not commit mortal sin because he did not fix his will on getting drunk.
Second, some actions are disordered, but not contrary to the moral law, in their implementation even though the ultimate end of the act is secure.16 For instance, while helping the poor, one gets easily irritated (see Phil 2:14–15), or lacks joy (see 2 Cor 9:6–7), or procrastinates (see Gal 6:9) but nevertheless perseveres in the task out of love for God and neighbor and ultimately remains with God and directs his actions toward Him, our ultimate End. The irritation, lack of joy, or procrastination can be venially sinful even though the good end is secure.
Venial Sin Synopsis
Based on all the above principles, explanations, and examples, we can say that some venial sins are a form of moral disobedience related to grave matter but without full knowledge (ignorance) or without complete consent (accidents or sudden movements of the will lacking the proper mode of reason).
We can also identify venial sins as 1) less serious actions that do not violate the moral precepts but fall short of the moral perfection for which God makes us; 2) disordered tendencies while performing good acts; and 3) inordinate fondness for a temporal thing but with the moral precepts preserved.
Additionally, quantity does not define the nature of sin. Grave matter is grave regardless of the amount one pursues. A little lust pursued with full knowledge and intent is deadly. Similarly, a little pride (i.e., excessive love of one’s perceived excellence), vengeance, greed, gluttony, envy, and sloth pursued with full knowledge and consent are deadly.
Saint James writes concisely about mortal and venial sin, saying, “. . . each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived [that sudden movement mentioned above] gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown [done with full knowledge and intent] brings forth death” (Js 1:14–15). One should commit St. James’ pithy passage to memory. It is crucial for rooting out sin in one’s life.
How To Use Knowledge of Sin to Achieve Moral Perfection
By understanding mortal and venial sins, we can more easily detect them in our own lives and remove them. If struggling with mortal sin, go to confession, seeing the same confessor, whenever you become guilty of it. Keep going to confession and follow your confessor’s guidance until the sin is gone or at least no longer a vice. Grace is essential in the fight against sin. Spiritual and/or psychological counseling may be necessary as well.
Regarding venial sin, turn to God with sincerity and ask for forgiveness and strength at the very moment you become aware of your actions. By doing this, you will begin to replace disordered acts with prayer and a desire to think, act, and speak justly. Replace each sin with good actions as you become aware of them.
Keeping one’s mind on God in prayer, reading Scripture and theology, meditating on God’s beauty and His plan for creation, and doing selfless works are paramount for rooting out sinful behavior. As you replace the habitual/deliberate venial sins with virtuous acts, you will become more sensitive to other faults that need your attention.
St. Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:8–9).
Finally, do not look at venial sins as defeat. Rather, see them for what they are: signs that mortal sin is not far behind, opportunities for humility, occasions to turn to God in prayer before a mortal sin manifests itself, and moments to develop discipline through grace. As the adage goes, practice makes perfect. So, be perfect, but don’t get frustrated with every imperfection. God is always here to help us. We simply must turn to Him and take advantage of His desire to heal us.
Daily Prayer For Moral Perfection
Lord God, heavenly Father, from the depths of my being, I pray that my thoughts, words, deeds, and desires accord with Your will. I want to love You above all else, and I ask that You conform me to You. Help me cooperate with the grace that You give me to identify and root out all sin, including the defects that lead to my daily faults. I know that I fall short of perfection, but out of respect for your Son’s words, “Be perfect,” I ask that You help me to become perfect. I pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Also, the Prayer to the Holy Spirit is excellent for aiding one’s desire for holiness. “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, online edition: Catechism of the Catholic Church – IntraText (vatican.va), accessed December 5, 2022; §2013; LG 40.2; Mt 5:48. ↩
- CCC §2013, quoting LG 40.2. ↩
- CCC §2015. ↩
- Thomas Aquinas, Rainaldo da Piperno, Summa Theologica, online edition: www.newadvent.org/summa/3184.htm, accessed December 5, 2022; II–II, 184, 2. ↩
- Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Three Ages of the Interior Life (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1947), 153–154, 159–162. ↩
- The Catholic Encyclopedia, online edition: Catholic Encyclopedia: Temptation (newadvent.org), accessed December 5, 2022. ↩
- CCC, §1849. ↩
- CCC, §1859–60. ↩
- CCC, §1862. ↩
- ST II–II, 35, 3. ↩
- Columba Marmion, The Life of the Soul (Zaccheus Press, 2005), 236–236. ↩
- ST I–II, 87, 5. ↩
- ST I–II, 88, 1,1. ↩
- ST I–II, 9, 1; ST I–II, 14, 1; and ST I–II, 74, 5, 2. ↩
- ST I–II, 89, 3. ↩
- ST I–II, 89, 3. ↩