The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

Gluttony is eating or drinking inordinately, contrary to reason. It is a sin opposed to the virtue of temperance because it is the immoderate indulgence in the delights of food or drink. Gluttony can involve more than merely eating too much. Drunkenness is also a type of gluttony because it is excessive indulgence in intoxicating drink.

A person can be excessive in what, when, how, and how much he eats. St. Thomas Aquinas and others have distinguished five ways gluttony can be manifested. One can approach food or drink:

Hastily, by eating too rapidly, gulping down food or drink. As a gift of God, food and drink should be savored and enjoyed. To fail in this regard is not only impolite when in the company of others but can also be offensive to God or to those who have prepared the meal. By hastily eating or drinking, one downplays the gift by rushing past its subtleties and delights, which require a more moderate rate of consumption to appreciate fully. Rapid consumption also tends to lead to overconsumption, whether food or drink.

Sumptuously, by demanding rich foods more so than healthier fare. For example, consuming sweets and fatty foods rather than fruits and vegetables, or expensive foods rather than more moderate ones, fine wines and liquors rather than water and juice.

Excessively, by habitually consuming too much.

Greedily, by demanding what one wants, when one wants it, and in the quantity one wants. Some are unwilling to share food or drink with others; others demand to be served first; still others insist on being served separately.

Daintily, by insisting that food be prepared to exacting standards of appearance or taste.

Yes, gluttony can be manifested in many ways, not just through excessive consumption.

St Thomas also noted these five “daughters” of gluttony:

Unseemly joy – This is best seen as a result of excessive consumption of intoxicating drink but eating too much can also lead to a levity that is beyond what is reasonable. There is an expression that is dismissive of a necessary seriousness: “Eat, drink, and be merry.” There is also the foolish saying, “Life is short; eat dessert first.”

Scurrility (foolish talking) – Long meals are often rife with gossip and silly or imprudent speech. Add alcohol and conversation can become increasingly unruly and flippant.

Uncleanness – Some are so addicted to the feast and the table that they induce vomiting to “make room” so that that they can return and consume more. Others vomit from the overconsumption itself, sometimes after having passed out.

Loquaciousness – This is similar to scurrility but refers to talking too much in general rather than the content of the speech.

Dullness of mind – Heavy food or intoxicating drink can cause sluggishness and sleepiness. Drinking too much can lower a person’s inhibitions. One seldom does good thinking after a heavy meal or a bout of excessive drinking.

While gluttony is not the most serious of sins (sins of the spirit are more consequential), gluttony can be one of the more disgraceful because of its effect on the intellect. Gluttony can become very serious in at least four ways:

First, drunkenness is a species of gluttony. The quantity of human tears shed on account of its effects demonstrate the havoc wrought.

Second, gluttony is an addiction and addictions are a serious problem.

Third, there can be a deep folly involved in gluttony by thinking that one can satisfy inner emptiness with things of this world.

Finally, gluttony is closely connected to avarice and lust.

Virtues that assist in battling gluttony – Rather than concentrating on the gluttony itself, we must turn our back on the problem and look to God as our joy and fulfillment. Gluttony is one of those sins we must crowd out with other virtues such as joy, zeal for heavenly things, gratitude, temperance, and moderation. We must gain the insight that when it comes to food and drink, “less is more”; things are best enjoyed in moderation. These can also be helpful: shame over excess, interest in physical fitness, and charity exhibited by preferring meals for the company rather than merely the food or drink.

The battle against gluttony is great in our times due to the way in which foods are prepared, the often-hidden prevalence of sugar in so many things, and the near elimination of famine in the Western world. We also live longer, are seldom sick for lengthy periods, and are able to consume food with little or no preparation time. Our bodies seem designed for occasional want of food, lengthy illness, and far more physical exertion than is common today. It seems easier to fall into gluttony in today’s world, but there are factors that may lessen guilt. Merely being overweight is not always an indication of gluttony; still, it can indicate a need to reexamine one’s diet.

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

One of the more misunderstood of the cardinal sins is sloth. Most see it merely as laziness, but there is more to it than that. Let’s take a moment and consider some aspects of this cardinal sin.

The Greek word we translate as sloth is ἀκηδία akedia (a = absence + kedos = care), meaning indifference or negligence. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of sloth as sorrow for spiritual good. By it, we shun spiritual good as too toilsome (cf Summa Theologica II-II 35,2).

Some modern commentators describe sloth as a “don’t care” feeling. Some even say it is a kind of falling out of love with God and the things of God (cf Rev 2:4). On account of sloth, the idea of right living and the gift of a transformed humanity inspires not joy, but aversion or even disgust because it is seen as too difficult or as requiring the setting aside of currently enjoyed or sinful pleasures. Through sloth, many experience sorrow rather than joy or zeal in following God and receiving a transformed human life. They are distressed at the prospect of what might have to occur should they embrace the faith more deeply.

Sloth also tends to dismiss the power of grace, focusing instead on the “trouble” or effort involved in walking in the Christian way.

Sloth is not merely laziness; it is more properly understood as sorrow or indifference. While sloth may sometimes look like boredom and a casual laziness toward attaining spiritual good, it can also be manifested by a frantic “busyness” with worldly things so as to avoid spiritual questions or living a reflective life.

Consider, for example, a man who is a workaholic. Now suppose that this man has a wife and children. A man in this position has some very significant gifts and duties beyond his career. He is a husband, a father, and the spiritual leader of his home. He is also a disciple, one whom the Lord has summoned to a new life, to the great discovery of God, and to the deepest meaning and realities of his life. He also has the awesome responsibility to announce these truths to his wife and children. All of the duties of his vocation overwhelm and even scare him; the task seems too open-ended. He doesn’t want to reflect too much because it might summon him to ponder things he would like to avoid considering: moral questions, priorities, whether he is spending enough time with his family, whether his life is focused on the things that matter most. It’s all just too hard, too filled with uncertainty. Entering more deeply into the spiritual life is difficult. Work is easier and they call him “Sir” and do what he says.

So he buries himself in his work; this helps him to avoid prayer and reflection. Of course there’s no time for Mass or for praying with his wife and children. There’s no time for Scripture, retreats, and the like.

This man is not lazy but he is slothful. In the end, his workaholism is sloth, for it is sorrow at and aversion to the gift that the Lord offers him: to come out into the deeper waters and lower his net for a catch. In this example, the man’s sorrow for spiritual good is manifested in avoidance and is rooted in fear. Through sloth, he is not joyful at the invitation of the Lord or the Church. Instead he is sorrowful and averse to what he sees as toilsome and possibly raising uncomfortable things he would rather not think about. He does not hate God or the faith, but it is all just too much.

That said, sloth does often manifest itself as a kind of lethargy, a boredom that can’t seem to muster any interest, energy, joy, or enthusiasm for spiritual gifts. Such people may be enthusiastic about many things, but God and the faith are not among them.

Boredom seems to have increased in modern times and this fuels sloth. We are overstimulated in the modern world. The frantic pace, the endless interruptions, the abundance of entertainment, the fast-paced movies and video games all contribute. From the time we awaken until we fall into bed at the end of the day, there is almost never a moment of silence or a time when we are not being bombarded by images, often flickering and quickly changing.

This overstimulation means that when we come upon things like quiet prayer or adoration, when we are asked to listen for an extended period time, when the imagery is not changing quickly enough, we are easily bored.

Boredom feeds right into sloth. The “still, small voice of God,” the quiet of prayer, the simple reading of Scripture and the pondering of its message, the unfolding of spiritual meaning through reflection, the slower joys of normal human conversation in communal prayer and fellowship—none of these appeal to those used to a breakneck pace. Sunday, once the highlight of the week for many (due to the beauty of the liturgy and the music, the hearing of the sermon, the joy of fellowship, and the quiet of Holy Communion), is now considered boring and about as appealing as going to the dentist. Thus, sloth is fueled by the boredom our culture feels at anything going at less than full speed.

In his book Back to Virtue, Peter Kreeft says,

Sloth is a cold sin, not a hot one. But that makes it even deadlier. [For] rebellion against God is closer to him than indifference … God can more easily cool our wrath than fire our frozenness, though he can do both. Sloth is a sin of omission not commission. That too makes it deadlier, for a similar reason. To commit evil is at least to be playing the game … Sloth simply does not play God’s game, either with him or against him … It sits on the sidelines bored … Better to be hot or cold than lukewarm [p. 154].

The “daughters” of Sloth are: malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things. For indeed, sloth can make us hate and thus have malice and spite for the good things of God. Then too there are the obvious daughters listed here which proceed from a sort of oppressive sorrow at the good things of God.

Of the Virtues that are medicine for sloth: As with envy, joy and zeal are essential. So too are Magnanimity and magnificence whereby we think great things and do them. By faith we learn to appreciate the good things of God and by charity we learn to love them.  By almsgiving we intentionally move outside our self. And, by justice we are motivated to render to God and others what is their due. 

The gift that the Lord offers us is promised in this beatitude: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6).

We must also ask for and seek the fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially love, joy, and peace. These gifts kindle a fire of love in our hearts for God and for the gifts He offers.

Because sloth is such a deep drive, we must throw ourselves to the care of God with great humility, recognizing our poverty and seeking His miraculous grace to give us grateful, loving, and passionate hearts.

Finally, because sloth can also be caused by the feeling of being overwhelmed at the perfection of our call, we do well to consider two points:

  • We ought to meditate carefully on what our specific call is. Because we cannot do and be everything, we need to understand our own particular gifts and how God expects us to use them. Having done this, we do well to “stay in our lane.”
  • We must understand that spiritual progress grows in stages, not in one giant leap. We need not be so sorrowful or averse to the good things God offers us. As a loving Father, He leads us and forms us most often in gentle ways as one spiritual victory leads to another.

Pray for zeal, joy, hope, confidence, and a hunger for holy things. The Christian journey is meant to be a thrilling one, as we experience how God is utterly transforming us.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

There is a picture of envy in the First Book of Samuel: Upon David’s return from slaying Goliath, the women sing a song praising him. Saul should rejoice with all Israel but instead he is resentful and envies David: “Saul was very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought, “They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.” And from that day on, Saul looked upon David with a glaring eye. Saul discussed his intention of killing David with his son Jonathan and with all his servants” (1 Sam 18:6-9). Saul’s reaction is way over the top; this is what envy does.

What is envy? Most people use the word as a synonym for jealousy, but traditionally speaking they are not the same.

When I am jealous of you, I want to possess something that you have—inordinately so. The key point is that there is something good about you, or there is something good that you have, that I want to have for myself. Jealousy is sinful when one desires something inordinately or unreasonably.

Envy’s Theological Definition – In traditional theology, envy is quite different from jealousy (cf Summa Theologiae II, IIae 36.1). Envy is sorrow, sadness, or anger at the goodness or excellence of someone else because I take it as lessening my own. The key difference is that with envy (unlike with jealousy) I do not merely want to possess for myself the good or excellence you have, I want to destroy it in you.

Notice in the reading above that Saul wants to kill David. This is because he thinks that David’s excellence makes him look less excellent, less great. Saul should rejoice in David’s gifts, for they are gifts to all Israel. David is a fine soldier and this is a blessing for everyone. The proper response to David’s excellence should be to rejoice, to be thankful to God, and where possible to imitate David’s courage and excellence. Instead, Saul sulks. He sees David as stealing the limelight and possibly even the kingdom from him. Envy rears its ugly head when Saul concludes that David must die. The good that is in David must be destroyed.

Envy is diabolical. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin (De catechizandis rudibus 4,8:PL 40,315-316) because it seeks to minimize, end, or destroy what is good. Scripture says, “By the envy of the Devil, death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). Seeing the excellence that Adam and Eve (made in the image of God) had, and possibly knowing of plans for the incarnation, the Devil envied Adam and Eve. Their glory lessened his—or so he thought—and so he set out to destroy the goodness in them. Envy is ugly and it is diabolical.

Examples of Envy – I remember experiencing envy in my early years. In every classroom there were always a few students who got A’s on every test. They always behaved and the teacher would sometimes praise them, saying, “Why can’t the rest of you be like Johnny and Susie?” Some hated students like this because they made them look bad. So what did some of them do? They sought to pressure the “teacher’s pets” to conform to their mediocrity. In effect, they sought to destroy the goodness or excellence in the ‘A’ students. They would taunt them with names and pelt them with spitballs. If ridicule and isolation didn’t work, sometimes they’d just plain beat them up. This is envy.

St. Thomas lists the “daughters” of Envy are: tale-bearing, detraction, schadenfreude (joy at the misfortune of others), hatred.  By these things we seek to denigrate others or reduce the esteem which they are owed. In effect I dismiss the good and destroy its influence.

Virtues that overcome envy – The proper response to observing goodness or excellence in another is joy and zeal. We should rejoice that they are blessed, because when they are blessed, we are blessed. Further, we should respond with a zeal that seeks to imitate (where possible) their goodness or excellence. Perhaps we can learn from them or from their good example. Instead, envy rejects joy and zeal, and with sorrow and anger sets out to destroy what is good. Charity too bids us to see that my neighbor and I are one, and when he is honored or blessed, so am I.

Envy can be subtle. Envy isn’t always obvious; sometimes it’s something we do almost without thinking. When there’s someone at work who is a rising star, we may engage in gossip and defamation that undermines their reputation or tarnishes their image. We may do this at times in an unreflective manner; we diminish or belittle others and their accomplishments through careless and insensitive remarks. We often do this because we need to knock others down in order to feel better about ourselves. This is envy. Sometimes we show envy passively by failing to praise or encourage others or by not calling attention to their accomplishments.

Envy concealed with a smile – Finally, there is an odd form of envy that is particularly annoying because it masquerades as sensitivity and kindness. Consider a typical youth soccer or baseball game. The children are on the field playing their hearts out. On the sidelines, a decision has been made by the coaches not to keep score. Why? Because the children’s egos might be damaged by losing. Frankly, it probably isn’t the egos of the children being protected but rather those of the parents. The fact is that the kids know the score in most cases. God forbid that on the sports field there should be winners or losers! The losers might “feel bad.” The solution is to destroy or to refuse to acknowledge the goodness and excellence in some children because it is taken to lessen that of the “losers.”

This is envy and it teaches terrible things (by omission). First, it fails to teach that there are winners and losers in life; this is a fact of life. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. Either way you should be gracious. Second, it fails to reward excellence, which is unjust. Excellence should be rewarded, and that reward should motivate others to strive for excellence. Much is lost when we fail to praise what is good.

Another example of this practice is at school award ceremonies at which scads of awards are given out. There are the traditional Honor Roll awards but then a plethora of made-up awards, created so that everyone “gets something.” I even witnessed an award given for the nicest smile! The problem is that when everyone is rewarded, no one is rewarded. Once again envy subtly rears its ugly head, but this time it’s wearing a smiley face. Heaven forbid that some child’s ego be bruised because he doesn’t get something; someone else’s excellence might make him look less excellent by comparison.

The bottom line is that it is envy: sorrow at someone else’s excellence because I take it to lessen my own.  Envy is ugly, even when it masquerades as kindness and fairness. It diminishes and often seeks to destroy goodness and excellence. The proper response to excellence and goodness is and should always be joy and zeal.

In the story of Snow White, the wicked queen envied Snow White, who was the fairest of them all. Considering Snow White’s beauty as a threat, the evil queen cast a spell on Snow White to remove her beauty from the scene. Envy consumed the evil queen.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

The deadly sin of anger is defined as the inordinate and uncontrolled feeling of hatred and wrath. Unlike righteous anger, the capital sin of anger is understood as the deep drive to cling to hateful feelings for others. This kind of anger often seeks revenge.

The consideration of anger as an experience, passion, or feeling requires some distinctions, however. Not all anger is sinful nor necessarily a deadly sin. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus manifests quite a lot of anger and issues many denunciations, often accompanied by the phrase, “Woe to you!” In this way, He spoke in much the same way as all the prophets before Him.

We live in a culture that tends to be shocked by expressions of anger; it is almost reflexively rejected as counterproductive. In some situations, though, anger is the appropriate response.

Let’s begin with some distinctions.

  • The internal experience or feeling of anger must be distinguished from its external manifestation. The internal experience of anger as a response to some external stimulus is not sinful because we cannot typically control the arising of feelings or passions. Anger usually arises out of some sense of threat. It signals to us that something is wrong, threatening, or inappropriate. Sometimes our perceptions are inaccurate, but often they are not. When they are not, anger is not only sinless, it is necessary; it alerts us to the need to respond and gives us the energy to set things right or to address a threatening situation.
  • Anger can arise for less-than-holy reasons. Some of the things we fear we should not. Some of our fears are rooted in pride or an inordinate need for status or affirmation; some come from misplaced priorities. For example, we may be excessively concerned with money, possessions, or popularity; this can trigger inordinate fear about things that should not matter so much. This fear gives rise to feeling threatened with loss or diminishment, which in turn triggers anger. We ought not to be so concerned with such things because they are rooted in pride, vanity, and materialism. In this case, the anger may have a sinful dimension. The sin, though, is more rooted in the inordinate drives than in the anger itself. Even when anger arises for the wrong reasons, it is still not an entirely voluntary response.
  • External manifestations of anger can and do sometimes have a sinful dimension, particularly when they are beyond what is reasonable. If we express anger by hurling insults or physically injuring someone, we may well have sinned. Even here, though, there can be exceptions. For example, it is appropriate at times to physically defend oneself. In addition, we live in thin-skinned times and people often take offense when they should not. Jesus did not hesitate to describe his opponents in rather “vivid” ways.

Hence, of itself, anger is not a sin. Scriptures says, Be angry but sin not (Ps 4:4). So anger is not the sin, but the expression of it may be. Further, it is possible that some of our anger springs from less-than-holy sources.

When is the external manifestation of anger appropriate? When its object is appropriate and reasonable.

For example, it is appropriate to be angry when we see injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. harnessed the appropriate anger of Americans toward the injustice of racism; he focused their energy in productive ways. However, he was very careful to teach against violence and revenge. Anger did not give the civil rights protesters the right to hate. What Dr. King did was to elicit a just anger in many Americans. This anger in turn gave them the motivation to act creatively and energetically to resist injustice and effect change through non-violence.

There are, however, some who respond to injustices with violent protests and who express hatred. In such protests, anger is no longer a creative energy that summons people to call for change and justice. Rather, it is a violent anger that manifests hate and often ends in the destruction of property and/or harm to other human beings.

Anger is also appropriate and even necessary in some forms of fraternal correction. To fail to manifest some level of anger may lead to the false conclusion that the offense in question is not really all that significant. For example, if a child punches his brother in the mouth and knocks out his tooth, a parent ought to display an appropriate amount of anger in order to make it very clear that this behavior is unacceptable. Gently correcting the child in a soothing and dispassionate voice might lead to the impression that this action really wasn’t so bad. Proper anger has a way of bringing the point home and making a lasting impression. The display of anger should be at the proper level, neither excessively strong nor too weak. This of course requires a good bit of self-mastery.

What, then, is sinful anger? Jesus teaches as follows:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:21-22).

Taking the passage at face value, it would seem that Jesus condemns anger without exception. However, if that is the case then Jesus clearly broke His own rule because as we know He exhibited a lot of anger in the Gospels. What Jesus does clearly condemn here is unrighteous and wrathful anger. The two examples in this passage show the kind of anger He means. The first example is use of the term Raca, an epithet that displayed utter contempt for the recipient. Notice that Jesus links this kind of anger to murder because by using the term, the other person is so stripped of any human dignity that to murder him would be no different than killing an ox or mule. This sort of anger depersonalizes the other and disregards him as a child of God. Using the term fool has a similar, though less egregious, purpose. Hence, it would seem that the Lord is not condemning all anger but rather the anger of contempt and depersonalization. To absolutize Jesus’ teaching here to include any anger at all would seem unreasonable given Jesus’ own example, which included not a little anger.

We ought to be careful, however, before simply adopting Jesus’ angry tone ourselves. There are two reasons for this: First, Jesus was able to see into their hearts and determine the appropriate tactics; we may not always be able to do this. Second, the wider Western culture in which many of us live may not be as prepared to accept such an angry tone; it may be less effective in our setting. Prudential judgment is a necessary precursor to using such tactics.

We do well to be careful with anger, for it is an unruly passion. Above all we ought to seek the fruit of the Spirit that is meekness and to ask the Lord to give us authority over our anger and prudence in its use.

What is meekness? It is an important beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit that helps us to master anger. Today, we think of a meek person as one who is a bit of a pushover, easily taken advantage of. The original meaning of meekness, though, describes the vigorous virtue through which one gains authority over his anger. Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης – praotes) as the middle ground between being too angry and not being angry enough.

The meek person has authority over his anger and is thus able to summon its energy but control its extremes. The meek are far from weak; in fact, they show their strength in their ability to control their anger.

St. John Chrysostom said this regarding anger: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices (Homily 11). St. Thomas Aquinas said, Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason (Summa Theologica II, IIae 158.8).

St. Thomas also lists the “daughters” of anger as quarreling, swelling of the mind, contumely (contempt or derision), clamor, indignation and blasphemy. For indeed, sometimes anger is directed at one who we deem unworthy, and this is called “indignation.” Sometimes wrathful anger manifests a pride where our anger is rooted in obstinate opinions and superiority. And anger surely gives birth to quarreling, derisiveness, and clamor. Anger directed at God often produces blasphemy.

Of the Virtues that are medicine for anger – Clearly meekness is the chief virtue to moderate anger. Meekness is the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough anger. Cleary the virtues associated with Charity such as love and peace along with proper fraternal correction assist in both curbing anger and directing it to useful ends. Prudence too will help direct and moderate anger especially through the foresight, circumspection, caution, counsel and discrimination proper to it. Finally humility helps alleviate the swollen mind of anger.

The sin of anger is ultimately a hateful and hurtful thing. It tends to destruction and must be mastered by meekness and patience. Perhaps it is best to end with a scriptural admonition:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not; it leads only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land
.(Psalm 37:8-9)

This song is from the Carmina Burana and the Latin is translated as follows:

Burning inside
with violent anger,
bitterly
I speak to my heart:
created from matter,
of the ashes of the elements,
I am like a leaf
played with by the winds.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

The word lust is most often used to refer to excessive or disordered sexual desire. However, because it is rooted in the Latin word luxuria (which refers to extravagant, excessive, or even riotous behavior), we sometimes hear it used in other ways. For example, someone may be said to have a “lust for power.” In the realm of moral and spiritual theology, though, we have come to restrict the word to sexual matters. This is especially because we have specific words to describe such excesses gluttony and greed.

Lust defined – For our discussion here we will define lust as disordered desire for, or inordinate enjoyment of, sexual pleasure (see Catechism of the Catholic Church 2351).

Of itself sexual desire is a great good, and an essential one upon which depends the future existence of the human race. As such it is also related to the common good and is among the greatest of goods since human life comes from it.

It is for this reason that St. Thomas numbers lust (objectively speaking) among the mortal sins:

The more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves one to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal acts, as stated in the foregoing Article, is most necessary for the common good, namely the preservation of the human race. Wherefore there is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the dictate of reason’s ordering, it will be a sin. Now lust consists essentially in exceeding the order and mode of reason in the matter of venereal acts. Wherefore without any doubt lust is a sin (Summa Theologiae II, IIae 153.3).

But lust is either an inordinate desire or a disordered one (often both). To say that sexual desire is disordered means that it is not directed to its proper purpose or end. The Catechism says, Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes (CCC 2351). To say that it is inordinate is to say that it is excessive, that the desire for sexual pleasure is over-the-top; it becomes a distracting, even consuming thing. This usually results from overindulging sexual desire and it can set forth an addictive process in which more and more sexual pleasure is “needed” to cool its flames. On this level, lust can become destructive to an individual, to others, and to a society as a whole.

In our time it is difficult to underestimate the harm caused by the widespread tolerance and celebration of lust and promiscuity. The acceptance of pre-marital sex (fornication), cohabitation, abortion, and pornography has led to sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, the sexualizing of children, single motherhood, absentee fathers, teenage pregnancy, sexual confusion, divorce, and finally the incalculable harm caused by the fact that more than half of children in the United States are not raised in normal family settings. As is common with adult misbehavior, it is the children who pay the highest price.

The most fundamental damage that widespread promiscuity has caused is the destruction of marriage and the family. Marriage rates have dropped dramatically in the Western world with the outright celebration of lust in music, movies, popular culture, and pornography. The widespread promotion of contraception has also perpetrated the lie that there can be sex without consequences.

As a result of this widespread promiscuity and uncontrolled lust many families are in disarray due to divorce, remarriage, single motherhood and absent and passive fathers. Because marriage and the family form the foundation of culture and civilization, our current path is a civilization-killer. Yet very few today seem to have a mind clear enough to recognize the path we are on and to repent.

St. Thomas provides a clue as to why this is so and also describes an additional harm caused by lust: the loss of a clear mind. He writes,

Now carnal vices, namely gluttony and lust, are concerned with pleasures of touch in matters of food and sex; and these are the most impetuous of all pleasures of the body. For this reason, these vices cause man’s attention to be very firmly fixed on corporeal things … [As a] consequence man’s operation in regard to intelligible (obvious) things is weakened,

[This is caused] more, however, by lust than by gluttony, forasmuch as sexual pleasures are more vehement than those of the table. Wherefore lust gives rise to blindness of mind, which excludes almost entirely the knowledge of spiritual things, while dullness of sense arises from gluttony, which makes a man weak in regard to the same intelligible things.

On the other hand, the contrary virtues, viz. abstinence and chastity, dispose man very much to the perfection of intellectual operation. Hence it is written (Daniel 1:17) that “to these children” on account of their abstinence and continency, “God gave knowledge and understanding in every book, and wisdom” (Summa Theologiae II, IIae 15.3).

Yes, along with indulged lust comes a darkening of the intellect. St. Paul notes the same thing:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness … they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…God gave them up in the desires of their hearts to impurity for the dishonoring of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie … for this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. Likewise, the men abandoned natural relations with women and burned with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:18ff).

In our times a darkening of the intellect has come upon many, who cannot and will not see that widespread promiscuity has caused great harm and threatens our very future as a culture and civilization.

St. Thomas also enumerates the following “daughters” of lust: darkness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world, and abhorrence or despair of a future world. St Paul well describes the darkness of mind that comes from suppressing the truth about sexuality (cf Rom 1:17ff). As one’s mind grow darker, strange practices once thought shameful are approved. One also becomes thoughtless by denying consequences of unreasonable and sinful use of the sexual faculties, one is also thoughtless in how they treat other people and the children born from illicit sexual unions.  Behaviors become increasingly rash and only the pleasures of this world are sought. Finally one comes to treat God and the Church as an enemy for daring to suggest that illicit sexual union is sinful.

Of the Virtues that are Medicine for Lust – Clearly temperance, continence, and chastity are the key virtues. But justice also demands that we respect the prerogatives of the marriage bed (cf Heb 13:4). Piety, namely family love, also helps, so that the sexual bond is kept safe to strengthen the family. Shamefacedness, sobriety, modesty and self-control are all recommendable as well. Respect and reverence for God and neighbor are also of assistance.

I would like to finish this reflection on lust with the paradoxical conclusion that while it is often regarded as less serious than sins against the spirit (even by traditional theologians), lust is capable of causing some of the greatest harm because it drives us downward into the flesh such that the light of reason is dimmed and the very light of truth seems obnoxious and intolerable.

Sexual desire is a beautiful gift of God and is necessary for our survival, but the corruption of the best things is the worst thing. It is far worse to damage a precious work of art than an ordinary trinket. Damaging the beautiful gift of sexual desire and longing for intimacy also damages the precious gifts of marriage and family, the basic unit of civilization. To divide what God has united (sex and marriage, marriage and children, husband and wife) is a kind of nuclear fission that has enormous destructive potential. Only the “control rods” of chastity and purity can contain the destruction we have set loose. Only a recommittal to not separating what God has joined can end the inevitable destruction caused by unrestrained lust.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

One of the more underreported sins is greed. It is easy to conclude that greed is something manifested by “that other person,” who has more than I do. Yes, that rich guy over there, the one who earns a dollar more per hour than I do; he’s greedy, but I’m not.

Honestly, does any one of us ever come to a point in our life when we say, “I earn more than enough money. I’ll just give the rest away”? Not on your life!

Almost never would such a thought even occur to the average person. Instead, most of us respond to a pay increase, for example, by expanding our lifestyle and continuing to complain that we don’t have enough. At some point, we ought to admit that we do cross over into greed.

What is greed? It is the insatiable desire for more. St Thomas says, Man seeks, according to a certain measure, to have external riches, in so far as they are necessary for him to live in keeping with his condition of life. Wherefore it will be a sin for him to exceed this measure, by wishing to acquire or keep them immoderately. This is what is meant by covetousness, which is defined as “immoderate love of possessing.” (S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 1) It is a deep drive in us that, no matter how much we have, makes us think that it’s not enough. We still want more, and then if we get more we want more still.

Familiar though this sounds, too few of us are willing to consider that greed is really a problem for us. It’s the other guy who’s greedy.

Of course it doesn’t help that we live in a culture of consumption, which constantly tells us that we don’t have enough. Commercials tell us that the car we’re driving isn’t as good as this other one we could be driving. So even though we have a perfectly good car, one with four wheels, a working engine, and probably even air conditioning, it still it isn’t good enough. So it is with almost every other product or amenity that is sold to us on a daily basis. The clever marketing experts of Madison Avenue are great at making us feel deprived. As a result, it almost never occurs to most of us that we may have crossed the line into greed. Despite having even six- and seven-figure incomes, many still feel that they don’t have enough.

This is all the more reason that we should spend some time reflecting on the nature of greed. Greed is one of the deadly sins, and it brings with it a kind of blindness that causes us to mistake mere wants for needs. As we entertain this illusion, there’s very little to prompt us to consider that we actually have more than enough. There’s very little to cause me to say, “Gee, I’ve gotten greedy” or to work toward curbing this insatiable desire for more.

When do I honestly look at myself and wonder if I am greedy? When do I ever conclude that I have more than enough and need to be more generous with what has become excessive in my life? When do I ever apply the old precept that if I have two coats, one of them belongs to the poor? It’s a good idea to have something saved up for a rainy day, but do I ever ask myself if I’m really trusting in God or just in my rainy-day fund? When do I ever wonder if I’ve crossed the line into greed?

Like all of the seven deadly or capital sins, greed sees many other sins flow from it. St. Thomas lists a number of these sins, which he calls the “daughters of greed.” They are: fraud, lying, perjury, dissatisfaction (restlessness), violence, and hardheartedness.  (see, S.T. II, IIae, q. 118 art 8). For, as St Thomas says, greed can create in us a kind of insensibility to mercy. Since by greed we adopt a certain passion to acquire and possess, often rooted in a kind of fear. Thus we focus unreasonably on our needs and do not advert to the needs of others. Greed can therefore lead individuals and nations to a hardheartedness and cruelty or violence in order to possess what we do really even need. It can lead us to be will to lie, or commit fraud for financial gain. Finally, as Thomas notes, greed makes us restless and anxious since, whatever we have it is never enough. Further, despite its false promises, wealth does not bring peace, it increases our anxiety. As regards this, Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners. (Eccl 5:12-13)

Of the virtues that are medicine for greed surely generosity is the chief virtue, followed closely by gratitude. For indeed, we already have so much fro which to be grateful and when our focus is there a kind of joy permeates our soul that makes us more generous and kind to others. Another virtue that is key is trust and Faith in God. For, when we trust God through faith we are less concerned about the needs of tomorrow, Providence will provide. This is turn assists the fruitful virtue of peace. Mercy and love are also virtues that open us to the needs of others.  And as always, prudence will assist us in knowing the measure of what we really need and what is excessive.

Let me assure you that I do not write this post from a political perspective. I do not want the government mandating how much I may or should earn nor how much I may or should give away. I am referring to a personal, moral assessment that we all should make.

I also do not write as an economist. I realize that market-based economies are complex and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with meeting people’s needs with products and services. I am also aware that markets supply jobs, but still I must insist that we all ask ourselves some personal questions about limits. We cannot simply conclude that greed is the other guy’s problem.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins; we ought to take it more seriously than many of us do. There’s room for most of us to reflect on one of the most underreported sins: greed.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

Pride is a sin that is so pervasive, runs so deep within us, that we often don’t even sense it is there. Not only is it a sinful drive in itself, it also plays a role in every other sin we commit. Pride is the sin we most share with Satan and the fallen angels. Satan refused to serve God or to submit to His plan; these are strong tendencies in every human person as well. Satan planned his strategy well as he tempted Eve. You will be like God, he told her. Both Eve and Adam falsely reasoned that in order to be free they should not be told what to do; they should do as they pleased. They claimed the right to determine good and evil for themselves rather than trusting God. This prideful pronouncement has gone forth from human hearts ever since: “I will not be told what to do.”

Let’s take a brief look at the primordial sin of pride.

I. The Definition of Pride – Pride is inordinate esteem for one’s own excellence. It is a habit or vice that disposes us to think more of ourselves than we ought. There is a proper esteem we should have for ourselves, but it is rooted in an appreciation for the gifts we have received from God.

Humility, the virtue that is opposed to pride, is not a hangdog disdain for ourselves; it is a reverence for the truth about who and whose we are. We do have gifts, but they are gifts, gifts that God has given us. These gifts are usually given to us through others. We should be humbly grateful for the gifts and talents that God has given us. In contrast, pride sets aside proper and grateful esteem in favor of excessive esteem that is often self-referential and unappreciative of what God and others have enabled us to become.

On the one hand, pride is one particular vice, sinful in itself. On the other hand, it is a more general vice that is involved directly or indirectly in most other sins. Pride plays an especially large role in sins of malice. Sins of malice are those in which one directly and defiantly refuses to obey God, or refuses to be told what to do, or willfully insists that one knows better than God, the Church, or those entrusted with one’s instruction and guidance. Pride plays a more indirect role in sins of weakness. Sins of weakness are those in which one acts sinfully not so much out of defiance as out of a weak inability to do what one admits is right. Pride may be more indirectly present through careless neglect of growing in virtue or failure to seek God’s help.

Pride is directed not only at God but also at our neighbor. There are times when we refuse to submit to the instruction or authority of others who rightfully have that position. There are other times when we refuse to admit that others have gifts and abilities that we do not possess and that we may in fact need in order to be completed. Further, we sometimes refuse to admit that others are just better at certain things than we are. In this way, pride is both impoverishing and isolating.

II. The Distinctions Regarding Pride – In modern English usage as well as in pagan philosophy, the word “pride” can have a positive meaning. The pagan philosophers often thought of pride as a good thing. Before it becomes sinful, pride inspires us to strive not merely for the ordinary but for loftier things. In this sense, pride pushes us to be more than we currently are; it inspires effort.

The use of the word “pride” in a positive sense is much less common in Christian moral theology, which typically speaks of pride only as a vice; it categorizes striving for the difficult but possible under the virtues of fortitude and hope.

Note that pride is not the same as vanity. Vanity actually shows some humility because in manifesting it, one shows the need for the admiration of another. For the same reason, pride is also not the same as pleasure at being praised.

St. Gregory lists four types of pride:

  1. Thinking that one’s good is from oneself
  2. Thinking that one’s good is from God but that it is as a consequence of one’s own merits
  3. Boasting of excellence that one does not possess
  4. Despising others and wishing to appear the sole possessor of what one has (this is related to the sin of envy)

III. The Dangers of Pride – The central effect of pride is to push God to the periphery of our moral, spiritual, and temporal existence. God is either shunned directly or becomes increasingly irrelevant to us. Man necessarily moves to the center and, even more egotistically, I move to the center. If God exists at all to the prideful person, it is only to gratify his pleasures and confirm his preconceived notions.

Having moved God to the periphery, the prideful person focuses more on his own power and exaggerated notions of control. Money, prestige, power, access, and possessions become his focus. It is himself on whom he relies, not God.

This of course is the height of foolishness because no human being can save himself. The relegation of God to the margins of our life is the chief danger of pride because He alone can save us. It is said that pride looks down, but no one can see God except by looking up. Pride turns us inward and downward!

Because pride involves entertaining the illusion of self-sufficiency and omits or minimizes God, it can be a serious or mortal sin. However, it is frequently not mortal, as that would require a conscious and fully willed discounting of God. Most individual acts of pride are venial by reason of this deficiency of awareness or full consent of the will.

Even though culpability may be less than mortal, the harm caused by marginalizing God cannot be overstated. The damage grows both individually and collectively until the most foolish things become daily fare. Further, a culture dominated by people who “forget” that God sees all and that they will have to render an account to Him will suffer increasingly from tyrannical, vicious, and destructive behaviors. Such a culture is dominated in growing measure by those who exercise little or no restraint on their behavior and who act imperiously — even despotically.

Pride can get very dark very quickly because it involves a direct turning away from God. In this sense pride is the first and worst of all sins.

So serious is pride that, as a remedy, God allows us to fall into other sins, especially those of the flesh. Thus, though God does not cause acts of fornication, drunkenness, or gluttony in us, He often permits their stubborn presence in order to save us from pride, which is a more serious sin. Sins of the flesh, especially those related to sexuality, often bring great shame, which is related to humility. And though it is strong medicine, God permits it in order to save us from the sin of pride, which is even more deadly.

IV. The Disease of Pride Pride is the source of many other sins. Not only is it their source, it is in those sins. Pride conquers at the root because it conquers the heart of man and disposes him to the other capital sins. St. Gregory does not even account pride as a capital sin, for it is the mother of them all!

A widespread modern form of pride, even among believers, is the reduction of God from the Holy One to a “harmless hippie” or a doting Father. Further, the awareness of final judgment and that we will one day have to render an account to God is not a significant factor in the thinking of most moderns. God is trivialized and man is exalted. To many, God exists to please and validate them on their own terms; His role is to affirm and console (but never challenge) them. In a certain sense, the ugliest and most self-serving form of pride is refashioning God in our own image. Making your own god and worshipping it used to be called “idolatry.”

Today, many assert the right to fashion their own god: the god within, the god of their own understanding. This is pride writ large and ugly. It is idolatry, somewhat veiled, but idolatry just the same; it is a violation of the First Commandment. Such pride cries out for correction and punishment. Yes, pride is ugly — a deadly disease.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

An Overview of the Seven Deadly Sins

Do you know what the Seven Deadly Sins are? It is valuable to name and begin to understand these deep drives of sin within us because the more we do so the more we can grow in self-knowledge. Further, it helps us to “know their moves” and gain mastery over them. As they stir deep within us we can recognize evidence of this and begin to take greater authority over them.

Too many Christians know little about twisted nature of sin. They just know they’re a little (or very!) messed up and can’t seem to figure out why. Have you ever gone to the doctor, not knowing what was wrong with you, and left feeling better just because you finally knew that what ailed you had a name and a cure? Being able to name our demons is an essential part of growth and healing.

Here are the Seven Deadly Sins, with a brief description of each:

  • Pride – the quality of loving and esteeming oneself more than is proper and at the same time denigrating the goodness of others
    • Pride also stirs us to reject the lawful authority of others, including God, over us and to refuse appropriate submission.
  • Greed – excessive desire for wealth and possessions
    • It is not wrong to desire what we need, but through greed we acquire far beyond what is reasonable and fail to be generous. Through greed we can also come to see the things of this world as more precious than the things of Heaven. Greed has been well described as the insatiable desire for more.
  • Lust – excessive or inappropriate desires or thoughts of a sexual nature
    • It is not wrong to experience sexual desire per se but Lust moves this to become excessive (all that matters), or for the object of it to be inappropriate (g. sexually fantasizing about someone other than a spouse). More broadly, lust is thought of as an excessive love of others that makes the love of God secondary.
  • Anger – inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and wrath
    • It is not always wrong to experience anger, especially in the presence of injustice. But anger here is understood as a deep drive which we indulge and wherein we excessively cling to angry and hateful feelings for others. This kind of anger most often seeks revenge.
  • Gluttony – overindulgence in or overconsumption of anything to the point of waste.
    • We usually think of gluttony in terms of food and drink, but it can extend to other areas as well. This sin usually leads to a kind of laziness and self-satisfaction that allows little room for God and the spiritual life. It may also cause us to be less able to help the poor.
  • Envy – sorrow or sadness at the goodness or excellence of another person because one believes it makes him appear to be less so.
    • If I envy someone I want to diminish or undermine his excellence. Note that envy is not the same as jealousy. If I am jealous of you I want what you have. In contrast, if I am envious of you, I want to diminish or destroy what is good or excellent in you. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin because of the way it seeks to eliminate excellence and goodness in others.
  • Sloth – sorrow or sadness at the good things God wants to do in one’s life
      • Most people think of sloth as laziness, but it is really an avoidance of God. In sloth, I avoid God because I fear or dislike what He can do for me. Some people avoid God through laziness, but others avoid Him by becoming workaholics, claiming that they are too busy to pray, to attend Mass, or to think about spiritual things.

 

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: An Overview of the Seven Deadly Sins