A good place to start our Lenten Journey is with a reflection on the Seven Deadly Sins and praying for a desire to replace those habitual temptations with new habits inspired by the virtues that counteract these sins.
Pride: leads the procession and is the basis for every other sin. Pride in a word is an inflated sense of self. Not to be confused with self-worth. Pride starts with Adam and Eve and their decision that they knew better than the Lord God what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. In that way pride is our refusal to accept the authority of God and go our own way. It extends to our refusal to accept other types of authority as well. Particularly the authority that is acting in our best interests: the church, our parents, and our loved ones.
Humility counteracts pride. Humility helps us recognize our place in the world: creatures and not the Creator. Theresa of Avila said, “Humility is truth”. Truth in self-understanding and truth in action.
Gluttony: the tendency to take food and drink for granted. We also extend it metaphorically to others things: glutton for punishment, glutton at work etc. Thomas Aquinas saw it as an “inordinate desire for food and drink”. It is applied to most things that we do without moderation.
Temperance helps overcome gluttony. Temperance demands we take a good look at our eating and drinking and other habits and see where they are destructive. Its practice requires self-discipline, moderation, and responsibility.
Envy: sorrow over another’s good (Aquinas) in the sense that we see our neighbor’s goods as somehow diminishing our own prestige or worth. Envy also leads quickly to detraction and calumny. Its fraternal twin jealousy is more concerned with persons: it is the fear of losing another’s exclusive or special love. Both lead us down the path of resentment and frustration.
Authentic Love is contrary to envy and jealousy. If we take our self-worth from people or things then we fail to love ourselves as made in the image of God. True self-love enables us to love as Jesus commanded us: with a self-giving love.
Greed: also known as avarice or covetousness. It is an inordinate pursuit of material values. Greed is deadly because it leads to immoral actions, it narrows our focus to the material at the expense of the spiritual, and it causes us to overlook the less fortunate.
A counterbalance to greed is gratitude and gospel poverty. By being grateful for what we have we will find ourselves satisfied. By accepting Jesus invitation to live simply we will not be the camel who cannot pass through the eye of the needle.
Anger occurs when our human desires, freedom or interests are constricted or thwarted. Anger becomes sinful when it is disordered, immoderate or against reason (Aquinas). That is, anger is a natural emotion and when it is used for good purposes, i.e. confronting injustice then it is reasoned. When it crosses over to vengeful actions and hurtful words it becomes deadly.
Meekness moderates anger. A meek person is calm and quiet when under attack. Meekness is an inner security that makes violence unnecessary. Patience is a form of meekness and allows us to endure present evils without self-pity. It springs from fortitude and courage.
Lust: the unrestrained or disordered seeking of genital pleasure. Lust turns our other centered sexual love into self-centered satisfaction. Lust objectifies others by making them the source of our pleasure without concern for their well-being.
Chastity brings lust under control. Chastity helps us use our sexual gifts for the good purposes they were intended for by the natural order and the law of God.
Sloth simply put is a lack of zeal for things spiritual. It poisons our will. It is a lack of desire for anything good particularly the divine. Sloth is a form of indifference that produces coldness in the soul for the spiritual life.
Joy overcomes sloth because it is based on the real attainment of something good or the belief in the promise of its attainment (heaven). Fortitude needs to precede joy because it gives us the courage to overcome our spiritual difficulties and face our trials and difficulties.
Hopefully through our Lenten journey together we can learn to replace the Seven Deadly Sins with Life-giving virtues.
Fr. John B.