It is important to be patient in our following of God. He cultivates saints and total victory over sin can take a long time, even an entire lifetime. It is important to remember that we cannot perfect ourselves; indeed, self-perfection is an ancient heresy called Pelagianism. The path to victory over sin is not, therefore, a matter of becoming strong-willed by ourselves, but of deepening our union with God, by means of the sacraments and prayer, so that the love of God grows in us and the attractions of sin weaken. Our main task as Christians, therefore, is to remain in Christ, like a branch attached to a vine, so that his divine life can flow into us and purify us. Finally, we should be comforted by the fact that even a defeat can be turned into a victory by God’s grace. When Peter denied knowing Jesus out of fear, Scripture tells us that Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Mt 26:75). Yet an outcome of this defeat was that Peter’s pride was broken at the deepest level. Relying on God’s grace rather than his own strength, Peter was then ready to act as leader of the Church.
Only one person, besides Christ, has ever lived entirely free of all sin, but this failure does not mean that all Christians are hypocrites. Christians, rather, acknowledge their need for forgiveness and God’s grace. In other words, rather than being an assembly of the perfect, the Church on earth is more like a hospital for sinners who want to become saints.
Many persons who have received Baptism and become Christians subsequently lose grace through mortal sin. Until the restoration of grace, usually through the sacrament of Confession, such persons are like dead branches and cannot bear the fruits of grace. Many other Christians live a kind of dual life. They remain occupied, at least in part, by the search for happiness in this passing world. Jesus described this condition as being like seed thrown among thorns, where the seed is the Word of God and the thorns are the cares of the world and the delight in riches. These thorns choke the life of grace, and it proves unfruitful (Mt 13:22). Nevertheless, the relatively few Christians who surrender to God’s grace with a full heart can quite rapidly show the fruits of this grace in radically transformed lives. These fruits can be seen most clearly in the lives of the great saints, such as St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena.