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James Bright wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Is obsession a sin?

James

  { Is obsession a sin? }

Mike replied:

Hi, James —

Based on where the person is coming from, obsession can be a very good or very bad thing.

We have many who visit our site, who have developed a strong interest in Catholic
teachings and are being lead by the Holy Spirit to become a Catholic.

Although not quite in the obsession category it is a calling from the Holy Spirit.

Similarly, obsession, can be a very bad thing.

We have holy angels as helpers in our lives, but we also have invisible, but REAL demons that wish to bring us down into Hell. Developing bad behaviors can lead to habitual vices that can be very hard to break.

The only way to:

  • discern the spirits
  • combat the bad habitual vices
  • and develop a balanced, lifestyle

is by a regular prayer and sacramental life. My personal preference is praying the Rosary.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Eric replied:

James —

It's important to note that obsession can be a component of mental illness for which we are not culpable. In this situation, to think of it as a sin is very destructive, because it amplifies the mental illness; you think obsession is a sin, so you try to avoid it, but you end up getting obsessed with avoiding it, and so become more obsessed with avoiding it, and feeling more and more bad about yourself, collapsing in a heap of self-reproach. This is not helpful! The condition of scrupulosity is a good example of this.

A spiritual director or at least a habitual confessor is important for sorting out what is sinful and what is not when you suffer from this kind of condition.

It's also important to know what kind of obsession we're talking about.

  • Do you mean "obsession" as in a hobby that consumes large amounts of time?
  • Do you mean "obsession" in the sense of being creepily preoccupied with the actions of a person you desire?
  • Do you mean "obsession" in the sense of habitual temptations or weaknesses to sin?
  • Do you mean washing your hands incessantly?

So there are very different kinds of obsession.

Eric

James replied:

Hi, Eric —

I don't mean deviant behavior. When I say obsessive I hypothetical mean:

"I have a strong desire to obtain a Bible and the thought of obtaining one consumes my life."

That's what I meant.

James

John replied:

James —

Anything which consumes our lives, other than God, is problematic. The desire to obtain a Bible is a good thing but if it keeps you from worshiping God because it's a distraction, then it's not healthy. In some extremes, even the desire for good thing, can border on idolatry.

By the same token, one can become obsessive about worrying about sin. This is called scrupulosity. While being concerned with ridding ourselves with sin is a good thing, it can take our eyes off Jesus Christ who is the author and perfecter of our faith. We are called to place our trust in Christ, knowing that He will do the work in us. Yes, we are to resist the devil and he will flee but it is never in our own strength. So scrupulosity is rooted in a belief that we can fight sin on our own and that is not the case. "While we were dead in our transgressions, Christ saved", Paul wrote to the Ephesians 2:5. We were powerless over sin until Jesus Christ came into our lives and we remain powerless over sin, should we begin to think we can defeat sin in our own strength.

John

Paul replied:

Dear James,

Just a quick word on this.

The general principle is that any bad thought or action is sin only when the thought is deliberate and there is full freedom of choice on the part of the person. If the obsession is not deliberately chosen, and if it occurs independent of the person's free choice, then there would be no guilt of sin.

Overcoming this habit of obsession is an important resolution to make, but that too would be dependent on how truly free and open to grace you are in the process of overcoming. As with most bad habits and obsessions, continual perseverance is the key.

Peace,

Paul

Eric followed-up:

The desire to obtain things can be sinful. That's what coveting in the tenth commandment is all about. If your neighbor has a Porsche and you're obsessed with obtaining one yourself, that could be the sin of covetousness or avarice.

Wanting to obtain salutary things is different. If you were obsessed with obtaining a bible for the sake of studying God's Word (let's assume we're not talking about an original Gutenberg bible desired for bragging rights), that's wholesome. If you desired study books to understand God's Word, that's good too. If, on the other hand, you impoverished your family in obtaining thousands of dollars of bibles, commentaries, and so forth, or neglected your obligations to your family in your study, that would be a problem. Those are not sins intrinsic to obsession; they are sins in and of themselves.

We should all be obsessed about being saints and obsessed about sanctity (although it is possible to pursue sanctity in a disordered, unbalanced fashion).

Eric

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