[draft]7 Deadly Sins

Sloth

 

“His master replied, `You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?”
– Matthew 25:26

 

“If a man is lazy, the rafters sag; if his hands are idle, the house leaks.”
– Ecclesiastes 10:18

But I Do Lots of Stuff!

Most people think of sloth as laziness, not doing much of anything, but just sitting around doing nothing. Many people stay busy most of the time but don’t do the things they should, putting them off for later. They may be staying busy so they have an excuse.

Sloth (or acedia) is a kind of spiritual laziness (as opposed to mere physical fatigue or depression). It means not making it a priority to do what we should, or change what we should in ourselves. Some people might call it apathy, which means a lack of feeling.

An example might be a parent that always sends their child to bed early so they can have lots of quiet time to play solitaire or watch TV. Perhaps they could let the child stay up a little later and play a game with them or read. Or perhaps they always tell their child “no!” without taking the trouble to explain why…

Another example could be someone active in a political movement. Perhaps they don’t bother to read other opinions and so never question whether their group is right or wrong. As a result, they could support some very wrong beliefs, such as racism, because they never tried to find the truth.

In business, some people never check into the laws to see if their practices are illegal. For Christians, we sometimes don’t really want to know what the Bible (or our Church) teaches about something, so we put off reading or asking about it. Sloth is quite possibly the main reason why people don’t read good spiritual books. They will read Christian fiction or some odd Gnostic gospel instead that “tickles their ears,” but never the ones that could call them to action: loving their neighbor, helping the poor, telling the truth.

Lastly, there might be a student who naturally picks everything up with very little effort. Instead of learning more than required, or doing volunteer work, they might just sit around getting high or gossiping. Not because it is fun, but because they just don’t care.

It should be noted that vices often are disguised as virtues. So sloth is often disguised as calmness, serenity, keeping a level head, open mindedness, etc… If sloth is the reality, people will get very defensive.

Or maybe not if the problem is sloth: it is too much effort to defend it.

Pride

 

“The Devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.”
– St. Thomas More, 16th Century

 

“God is stern in dealing with the arrogant, but to the humble He shows kindness.”
– Proverbs 3:34

 

“Hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to the love of God …”
– The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2094

Overweening pride, arrogance, haughtiness: these have been the stuff of tragedy. Vanity, fussiness, delicacy: the stuff of comedy. These are all forms of self-delusion, and paper-thin masks over rotting features. Pride and vanity refuse the truth about who we are and substitute illusions for reality. While vanity is mostly concerned with appearance, pride is based in a real desire to be God, at least in one’s own circle.

The first requirement of pride is spiritual blindness. Any glimpse of God reveals our frailty and sinfulness, just as a well-lit bathroom mirror shows the flaws in our complexion. Like Oedipus, we are driven to gouge out our eyes at the sight of our wretchedness and wander away from our heavenly home, with no purpose or direction. Unlike Oedipus, we build up myriad illusions about who we are and what we are about. We can busy ourselves with career, family and even church work, thinking we are being driven by a strong work ethic, moral values or the fire of the Holy Spirit. In reality, we may be running away from God by running away from ourselves. Nearly everyone else can see that we are putting on a show, but not us. Our coworkers may hate us (they are just jealous), our children may self-destruct or leave us (they are ungrateful), and we may never truly pray but merely stand in the presence of a god we have created, but we still refuse to see.

A second requirement of pride, indeed a symptom, is that each challenge to our pride drives us harder to improve our illusion of productivity, sanctity or compassion. It has been said that the definition of a zealot is “one who has lost sight of his goal, and so redoubles his efforts.” We might say the zealot works twice as hard to keep up appearances.

When we hear sermons about pride, or read this text, we may be tempted to think of all the people we know who really need to read it. We need to read it. Pride is about us, and we would love to retain our illusions by pointing to others, saying: “But they are very proud. I really don’t think I’m that great, but they do.”

The best pride detector is this: how much are we bothered by the pride of others? And if we feel attacked, is our response: “other people are worse.”

A strong indicator of pride is competitiveness. There is nothing wrong with playing to win, provided the joy is in the playing. If our happiness depends on defeating others or knowing our child is the star of the team, we are building a world of illusion.

At death, all illusions are stripped away. God’s judgment will not take into account our bank balance, how much we own, how smart our children are or how much self-esteem we have. All that will matter is whether He recognizes us (Matthew 25:12).

There are three ways to destroy Pride, and they must all be taken together:

  1. Be grateful to anyone and everyone. Treat even the things people are expected to do as great gifts. Be grateful for your food, your change at Burger King, rain, life itself. Thank everyone.

     

  2. Beg forgiveness of God for the sin of Pride. Go before Him in prayer every day or every few hours and implore His mercy. The more this offends you, the more Pride you have.

     

  3. Ask God for a spirit of Humility and Gratitude. Read Philippians 2:3-11 and imitate it. Understand that without God’s Grace, we will never cast away our illusions. Ask God to break your pride and vanity using whatever it takes: illness, loss of friends, loss of family, public humiliation. This is unbelievably difficult to request, and every fiber of our being fights it. We protest it is not fair, or “God doesn’t work that way.” My friend, what good is health, friends, family, a good reputation, if you have no real love for God, but only a hollow illusion? In the end, all but true love for God is lost, so count all else but God as loss now.

Greed

 

“He who loves money never has money enough”
– cf. Sirach 5:8

 

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
– Exodus 20:17

 

“But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.'”
– Psalm 31:14

There are at least three forms of greed:

  1. an obsessive desire for ever more material goods and the attendant power.
  2. a fearful need to store up surplus goods for a vaguely defined time of want.
  3. a desire for more earthly goods for their own sake.

The Greed of Power

In this form, earthly goods are chiefly a means to an end, which is really not that far off from a healthy view. The money, real estate, cars are simply things used to achieve, wield and display personal power. These things can be used to intimidate or bribe others, reinforce one’s own illusions about what is important or to build up a feeling of success. The “products of wealth,” as the Jethro Tull song (“Slipstream”) puts it.

The real problem here is more the desire for power than the actual greed. A common thread for sin in general is that it is often borne out of fear. A fear of helplessness or loss of control can turn into a lust for power as a way of preventing an undesirable situation. The parable of the man with an abundant harvest is well worth considering.

To destroy our desire for power, we must be generous in granting power to others. When appropriate, be submissive to others. Avoid jobs that are a temptation for a “power grab.” Share credit for successes with others, and claim a fair share of responsibility for failures being blamed on others. The idea is to stop trying to control everything and everyone. In parenting, this means encouraging children to find their own way, and respecting their choices. It does not mean abdicating legitimate responsibilities, but loosening our grip on others’ lives as well as our own. God will take care of us, He has the plan. We can’t control everything anyway, so we might as well learn to relax in God’s hands.

 

The Greed of Fear

Fear is a poor motivator for virtue, but an excellent one for greed. Sometimes, greed is simply a desire to have so much that we can’t possibly run out. The stock market could crash, we could lose our jobs or health, we could be sued. If we acquire enough stock, real estate, or T-bills, we think we will be safe from want. This is an illusion. There is no perfect preventative for want, but even if there was it would stand in opposition to the trust in God to which we are called. Jesus said, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Trust in God frees us from a need to build a massive buffer against poverty.

Part of the cure may be to embrace poverty. We may not become homeless, but we can learn to do with less. Serious campers try to leave their campsite in the same state they found it. Ideally, there should be no trace left when they move on. In the same way, try to use less of the world’s goods. “Live simply, that others may simply live.” Once this kind of freedom is practiced, we realize that we don’t need that much, anyway. This knowledge, in turn, reduces our fear and builds a kind of strength and confidence.

 

The Greed of Acquisition and Enslavement

This is slavery, plain and simple. We can reduce ourselves to a small and cold desire to accumulate more electronic gear, trading cards, antiques or other collectibles. It is far beneath the dignity of human beings to enslave themselves to objects of their own making. It is well said that our possessions in some ways may come to own us.

The obvious cure is to divest oneself of as much as possible, but another suggestion might be to consider the grave. When we die, we take nothing with us. If we are bound by “disordered attachments” to worldly goods, the separation forced upon us by death will be even more painful. If we are destined for eternal glory, the temporary enjoyment of trinkets in this life is simply absurd. Meditation on this begins to loosen the grip of objects on the heart.

Envy

 

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
– Proverbs 14:30

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4

 

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
– James 3:16

Dante groups Envy with Anger and Pride as the sins of “Perverted Love.” The other two groups are “Insufficient Love” and “Excessive Love of Earthly Goods.” Envy is perverted because it “loves” what other people possess, rather than what is Good, Beautiful and True. It is often portrayed as “eating away” the heart of the envious person. Dante shows the envious as among those farthest away from Paradise, with their eyes sewn shut, but weeping over their sins. Again, a common metaphor for Envy is “wearing out the eyes.”

Anger

 

“Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”
– Matthew 5:22

 

“Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
– Galatians 5:19-21

 

“A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
– Proverbs 15:1

 

Is Anger Always A Sin?

As with many other passions, anger (or wrath) may be an emotion or an attitude. If all anger is sinful, how is it that God is described as “angry” in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures), or that Jesus became angry at least twice according to the Gospels. Of course, some people say Jesus wasn’t really angry as he drove the money changers out of the temple with “a kind of whip made of cords” (John 2:15). Read the Gospel: Jesus was angry. If Jesus got angry, it must be right, because he never sinned. So we can get angry?

 

Anger as a Decision

Some say we can’t control our emotions, but we “choose” our emotions from our “emotional toolbox.” If anger is in our heart already, events will bring it out. If we have let God give us peace, our reaction to events will reflect this: we may respond to offenses or accidents with humor, kindness and patience, because that is what is in our heart.

But if we still have anger in our heart, what do we do in the meantime? Once the anger wells up and starts to spill out, we have an ongoing decision: let it out or refuse to participate. This is not a matter of holding it in. It is a matter of starving it but refusing to feed it. Anger always dissipates eventually, so we can just let it happen sooner by not holding on to it and refusing to enjoy it. People enjoy their anger. Think about it; you will find it is true. Even though we may feel terrible later, we enjoy the power of anger while we are giving ourselves to it. We get an adrenaline rush and forget all the bad things about ourselves.

 

Anger Belongs to the Righteous

Every angry person feels righteous. When we are angry we concentrate on the object of it and forget everything else. It is Judgment Day, and we are playing God. Parenting may be the worst situation of all. An angry parent faces a small, helpless child and truly is an awesome force. The child can be frightened beyond belief, and the parent may come to enjoy this feeling, especially if the parent feels helpless in the face of others. Supervisors can intimidate employees in the same way, teachers do it to students, administrators to teachers, and schoolmates even bully each other.

The key is that only the righteous have a “right” to be angry. Appropriately, this is called “righteous indignation.” There are rare cases where we are angry for the right reason: when we hear someone make racist remarks, lie to destroy someone else’s reputation, or commits a heinous crime. However, none of us is truly righteous: we do wrong things, too. Given our own sins, we are in no position to judge, and righteous anger implies a kind of judgment, at least of an action. We aren’t called to stand high above other people but with them. We fail, and we desire compassion and patience from others.

Many times, our anger over situations is not due to the situations’ actual morality, but is because they conflict with our own ideas about what is good. And our ideals are not always God’s. A good deal of self-examination is required: why am I really angry? Is God angry about this? If not, do I claim to be more righteous than God?

This may be the most helpful idea in dealing with anger: is God angry about it? We had better know God very well, though, or we may simply make God in our own image and then have Him bless everything we do.

So, righteous anger is simply a matter of agreeing with God over serious matters. However, God really doesn’t need our anger, so something more productive is called for: action on behalf of good. In all the Gospel, Jesus spent almost no time being angry, and in each case it was very short lived. If we are angry often, it is most probably not righteous anger.

Lastly: if we believe we should be angry because we want to agree with God, then are we also compassionate for the same reason? Do we agree agree with His mercy? Do we genuinely try to follow the full Gospel or do we pick and choose? Are we prepared to humble ourselves for the sake of others as Jesus did? Do we remember God’s patience and mercy in His dealings with us?

The safest course is first to imitate God’s mercy, compassion, humility, gentleness and above all, love. When these are in our hearts, perhaps we may also have some righteous anger.

But there probably won’t be room, and we probably won’t miss it.

Lust

 

“…every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
– Jesus Christ (Mt 5:28)

 

“Can a man take fire to his bosom and his garments not be burned?”
– Proverbs 6:27

 

“Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.”
– The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2351

To be fair, there is one good thing about the sin of Lust: it cannot persist into eternity. In actuality, sins of the flesh tend to burn themselves out over time. After a while lust becomes a habit and what pleasure it brought diminishes until we wonder what the attraction is.

We can limit lust to sexuality, but we may want to consider the larger area of sensuality. Sensuality is the craving for physical pleasures of all kinds. An inordinate desire to avoid pain, for physical and even emotional comfort, the best food and wine, the best looking car, can all be forms of lust. Lust denies our spiritual nature and promotes the lie that “this is all there is.” We try to make a heaven on earth, but instead we create a hell. Other people become ways of satisfying our needs. They are merely objects to service us, bring us food, run our business, give us pleasure. We want to reduce the population of the world so we won’t have to share or we want more children so they can carry on the family business. Everyone else becomes a means to an end.

Still, we usually think of lust as it pertains to sexuality. It is good to clear up a few misconceptions about the Christian view, at least as it is put forth by the Catholic Church:

 

“The Creator himself . . . established that in the (generative) function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.” – Pius XII, Discourse, October 29,1951.

In marriage, enjoyment is not the problem. Lust enters into marriage when sex is not a mutual expression of love, but rather the use of one person by another (even if the “use” is mutual). This, of course, breeds resentment and eventual alienation, even if the couple do not separate.

Another misconception is that Christians are obsessed with Lust. While this may be true for some individuals, the Church simply applies the same rules to sex that we apply to everything else: all things must be made subject to the will of God, as revealed by Jesus Christ. There are correct times and places for many things in life (“To everything there is a season”). We simply state that sex is not an exception. Money, power, sex, reputation/honor or individualism can all become obsessions and even gods to us, but they are not evil in themselves.

Lust blinds us. In dating, lust causes us to miss the warning signs in the relationship. We gloss over major obstacles to a good marriage because our physical desires are driving us. Lust is enslavement to the senses, to the animal part of man. Lust deadens our spiritual senses so we cannot hear God calling. If you are professing to be a Christian and yet are fornicating or committing adultery (these mean sexual contact or pleasure, not just intercourse, outside of marriage), you are fooling yourself. Unrepented lust is a solid barrier to growth in faith, but it does not prevent growth in Pride. Think about it.

For some people, meditating on death and the grave may help control the sexual drives. Not out of fear, but from a simple realization that this life doesn’t last forever. The present body is corruptible, the next body is glorious. Let us keep our “eyes on the prize,” and not on this fleeting life in feeble flesh.

Gluttony

 

“Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. ”
– Proverbs 23:2

 

“Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. ”
– 1 Corinthians 7:5

The chief error about Gluttony is to think it only pertains to food. Some people can’t have enough toys, television, entertainment, sex, or company. It is about an excess of anything. There are at least three forms of Gluttony:

  1. Wanting more pleasure from something than it was made for.
  2. Wanting it exactly our way (delicacy).
  3. Demanding too much from people (excessive desire for other people’s time or presence).

 

More Pleasure Than It Was Made For

The world is full of good things, from the beauty of the stars to the ever-changing and never-changing oceans to the pleasure of human company. We are free to enjoy these things without becoming focused on any one of them to the exclusion of all else. It is possible to become so caught up in a pleasure, whether food or fun, that we can no longer enjoy other things, and would be willing to sacrifice other pleasures for the one.

We enter into Gluttony when we demand more pleasure from something than it was made for. Normally, we can only eat so much food, but some people in Ancient Rome wanted more pleasure, so they threw up after the meal and then ate more. This allowed them to enjoy eating more at the cost of health (and dignity).

 

Delicacy

In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis describes delicacy as a desire to have things exactly our way. He gives the example of food having to be prepared just right, or in just the right amount, but it isn’t limited to food. We might complain about unimportant defects in a product, the temperature in the room, or the color of a laundry basket. There is a certain amount of discomfort to be expected in life, but the Glutton will have none of it. Instead of becoming strong by suffering the minor inconveniences of life, the Glutton insists on being pampered. No one dares to point out how petty or foolish they are. In fact, some celebrities are praised for their excessive perfectionism, as though it were a virtue.

 

Demanding Too Much From People

There can be a healthy and natural enjoyment of time spent with friends and acquaintances, but some people just can’t get enough. They make demands until the other person moves away or explodes in anger. The Glutton is wounded that someone would take offense at their “love” for them. At least some people can get away. Far worse is when a parent demands too much from a child, requiring too much time or too many accomplishments from someone too small to grant so many pleasures. Even pets get excessive attention at times, but they don’t seem to mind as much.

In some dating relationships, one person desires the other’s company constantly, to the point that the other can barely hold down a job or continue in school. Whatever the reasons, the object of affection is expected to provide the pleasure of their company (at least) more of the time than is reasonable. Even in marriage, it is possible for a couple to be so “romantic” that the children are neglected. One legitimate pleasure (sex) can become obsessive to the point that another pleasure (the company of one’s children) is lost.

 

The Good News

Because Gluttony is generally a sin of the flesh, the flesh limits it. If we consume too much food or drink, our body (usually) lets us know, either by gaining weight or illness. If we are too fussy about things (delicacy), people will tell us to do it ourselves. And if we demand too much from people, they will fly from us and we will be alone more often. So, we usually get a view of the problem, and a chance to change.

It is said that St. Thomas More was an exceptionally fun person to be around, so much so that King Henry VIII of England kept calling for him, preventing Thomas from going home to his family. Thomas eventually began to curtail his merrymaking so that he was more dull company. This strategy worked, and he was able to live at home more often.

The cure for Gluttony lies in deliberately reducing our use of pleasurable things, not in eliminating them. When eating, quit before feeling stuffed. When snacking, don’t just keep stuffing, but quit after a while. With people, allow some quiet time together, and also get some time alone. Of course, if time alone is very pleasurable, get out more often. And if the toast is a bit too brown, eat it anyway.

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