The Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath

My favorite opera is Rigoletto. It is the story of a hunchbacked jester named Rigoletto who is employed by the lustful and selfish Duke of Mantua. The Duke is regularly seducing young maidens around the city. Unbeknownst to the Duke, Rigoletto has a beautiful daughter he has hidden from the Duke for fear of her being sexually mistreated. One night, the Duke discovers the girl when walking around the city and abducts her. Once at the mansion, he seduces the innocent young maiden and has his way with her. Rigoletto is horrified to find his daughter the next day defiled in the Duke’s bed-chamber. Filled with rage, he vows to kill the Duke. The jester is warned not to allow his wrath to take control or else it could lead to a tragic outcome. But, Rigoletto is too blinded by anger to heed the advice. He hires a prostitute to lure the Duke into an inn where she is to drug him and place his body in a bag outside the door. Rigoletto will then stab the Duke with his own hand. Little did he know that his daughter found out about the plan. In her naivete, she believes the Duke loves her. In an effort to save the Duke’s life, she switches places with him in the inn. Following the plan, her body is placed outside the door in a bag. Rigoletto then viciously stabs the bag while laughing, rejoicing that his vengeance had finally been achieved. Only when he opens the bag to look upon the body of his victim does he see the mangled body of his beloved daughter lying lifeless upon the ground. In a way that can only be done by art, this opera captures a valuable lesson about the danger of wrath. Thomas Aquinas defines wrath as an uncontrolled and irrational anger. Anger in and of itself is not an evil. As a matter of fact, anger is sometimes justified especially in situations when we see a lack of justice or cruelty. Anger becomes wrath, however, when it begins to control us and make us do dangerous things like unnecessary violence or harm. Wrath can also affect the mind. There are people who have such uncontrollable anger that it leads to fantasies. They will spend hours imagining how to hurt those who wronged them. Thus, mental and spiritual energies that could be used to genuinely remedy an unjust scenario are wasted on vengeful thoughts and feelings of resentment. Wrath can be deadly both physically and spiritually. It is like a drug, influencing good decision-making and often leading to horrific actions. We will naturally feel anger in a world that is broken by sin. But, we must never allow it to control us or dictate our actions. We cannot let wrath conquer justice or vengeance suffocate forgiveness. When all is said and done, Christ is Lord and His love will always have the last word.  

The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony

We live in a land of plenty. Few people experience a lack of essential needs. With one click, Amazon can deliver a new bicycle, rolls of toilet paper and a TV to our front door. The phrase that is commonly used to describe this phenomenon is “immediate gratification.” Although this is a blessing of living in such a great country, there is a dark side. Many of us are disconnected from the sense of patiently waiting and suffering to attain things. We see this most clearly in regards to food. Most Americans do not grow their own produce or raise livestock. There is not a thought about where food comes from or how it is created.  A gap exists between the production of goods and the reception of goods. As a result, we become indulgent and wasteful, taking for granted things which the majority of the human race cannot enjoy. We drive-thru McDonalds and expect to order a hamburger or pull into Publix and expect to see the shelves stocked with items. Convenience breeds indifference and an unappreciative heart is quick to squander. St. Thomas Aquinas defines gluttony as an inordinate relationship with material things. It can also be defined as an ingratitude for the goods we possess. To be gluttonous, therefore, is not only to eat a lot. It means to treat material things- time, money, food, technology- as the ultimate end of our lives. We development an obsession with eating or checking our Facebook page. The thought crosses our mind regularly. Things control us instead of us controlling things. The fallout of these unhealthy and undisciplined desires can be dangerous. Obesity, lack of hygiene, technology addictions, attention deficit and poor self-control are just a few symptoms. We are created to be healthy and wholesome persons whose bodies and souls reflect the beauty of God. How can we do so when our mind, heart or body is being controlled by external things? St. Paul warns against this when he tells the Philippians, “Your god is your stomach!” (Phil. 3:19). We know that gluttony of food, time or resources is never fulfilling. We may be stuffed with desserts or stimulated by hours of Youtube videos, but we are not satisfied. There is a hunger that is much deeper, one that can only be filled by Christ. This is why the saints could go days without eating and years in silence, yet remain joyful. They recognized the longing of their souls and fulfilled them appropriately. “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). Allow Christ to fill your soul. He is what you are really searching for in the things of the world.         

The Seven Deadly Sins: Acedia

There is an ancient demon who the early Christians numbered among the most deadly: Acedia. It is a spirit not often spoken about…and he prefers it that way. This is the demon who specializes in mediocrity and comfort. His goal is to make sure we never progress in the spiritual life and fail to achieve the greatness for which we are created. St. Thomas Aquinas defines acedia as “sorrow about spiritual good.” In other words, it is a laziness and sadness that rises up in the human heart when they recognize their responsibility to become a saint. To put it another way, acedia is the demon that whispers in our ear, “That’s too hard” or “Someone like you could never be holy.” There are two main ways the demon of Acedia immobilizes us. First, by dredging up sins from our past so as to make us ashamed and resentful. Acedia is constantly reminding us of how we messed up in high school or colleges; all the mortal sins we committed and the stupid mistakes we made. The other weapon in his arsenal is to make us unnecessarily anxious about future events. Our minds become consumed with concerns about things that have not happened: “What if my son grows up and gets in trouble?” “What if people find out what I have done?” “What if I do not get that job I applied for?” “What if my spouse cheats on me?” “What if…What if…What if…” We can spend hours trapped in our minds wasting energy worrying about things that are not even real. These mental gymnastics make us mentally and spiritually fatigued leading to exhaustion and irritability. But acedia is not done yet. After he has tempted us with shame about our past or anxiety about our future, he then offers an escape. This escape can take many forms: technology, Netflix binges, social media, pornography, alcohol, drugs, career…Acedia offers all of these things as a means of medicating our wounds, lack of self-worth and fears. In the end, we are left empty as we return to the thoughts we tried to avoid and the cycle starts all over again. Some people remain trapped in this mindset for years never really maturing or progressing in the intellectual or spiritual life. One final note about the demon of acedia is that he will do all in his power to make us comfortable. In an attempt to keep us from realizing our vocation to sainthood, he will work hard to convince us that we are fine just as we are…there is no need to be challenged or converted. This is especially true in regards to our Catholic faith. The demon of acedia does not mind practicing Catholics, but he hates holy ones. He is content that you go to Mass every Sunday and confession twice a year. As long as you are going through the motions, he has won; you’re out of the game. People of routine are not a threat to Satan. It is the people who are striving to improve, learn and change that are most dangerous to the reign of evil. The best way to combat the demon of acedia is to avoid putting our faith on auto-pilot. We need to actively engage in Catholicism and constantly seek to grow. Only then can we become what the demon fears most…a saint.           

The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust

It was the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who asserted “Corruptio optima pessima est.” “Corruption of the best is the worst.” There are few things more discouraging or repulsive then to witness the perversion of beauty. To see what was once magnificent be abased; what was once sublime become profane. That is very much what has happened to sexuality. Ideally, our sexuality is a precious gift created by God for the sake of union and procreation. Yet, recent years have seen this treasure reduced to a mere tool utilized for egotistical pleasure. Nowhere is this more present than the pornography industry. Multi-million dollar corporations are built upon the exploited bodies of men and women, many of whom turn to drugs, alcohol and suicide to cope with their shame.  Last year alone, the pornography industry generated $12 billion of revenue. That is a higher income than ABC, NBC and CBS combined. Add to that the tragedy of strip clubs, prostitution, sex slavery, human trafficking, adultery and graphic sexual content in TV shows. Our society is plagued by lust, a ravenous and undisciplined desire for sexual pleasure. St. Thomas Aquinas defines lust as the abandonment of reason for a disordered pleasure of the flesh. Notice how Aquinas does not denounce sexuality, but rather denotes a “disordered” desire for the flesh. Sex is not dirty or wrong. It is sacred. And like all sacred things, it deserves a special respect and is intended for a consecrated purpose, namely, the marital union of spouses and the creation of life. Some people think that the Catholic Church is anti-sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Church upholds the dignity of sexuality and admires it as a gift from God. In reality, atheistic and secular culture is much more derogatory towards sexuality. Society applauds “free love” which is code for uncontrolled and immature sexual impulse. “Judge a work by its fruits” (Matt. 7:16). The “free love” movement has led to the highest divorce rate in world history and increased sexual abuse. We claim to be freer than our predecessors, but in fact, we are slaves. Without religion and stable moral values, we are a civilization bound to our superficial concerns and anxieties. This is why 1 in every 7 millennials claims to suffer from some form of depression. Not coincidently, over 60% of millennials view pornography several times a week and over 26% of Gen Z admitted to doing the same. That means that nearly 90% of people in our country 35 years or younger few pornography regularly. Unfortunately, these young people are being allowed to replace real-life encounter and intimacy with virtual stimulation. Thanks to our society’s abandonment of chastity, the majority of our youth see sex as an artificial object, disembodied from a real person. They long for intimacy, but are not being formed to properly foster it nor how to love with a pure heart. This is ultimately unsustainable. A civilization cannot exist when it is based on egotism and contraception. The spiritual, moral, political and economic fall-out from this kind of thinking is inevitable. Reclaiming sexual purity and respect for our bodies is of the utmost importance for the future of our society. Parents in particular, need to have honest conversations with their sons and daughters about sexuality as well as closely monitor the content their children are viewing on social media, video games and television. Most likely, they have come across something dangerous and need to talk about it.   

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

There is a genre of art from Japan called anime. It is among my favorite types of illustrations. Although anime began in the realm of comic books (called “mangas”), many anime’s have been adapted into animated television series. Among the best is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It tells the story of two brothers named Edward and Alphonse. As the story progresses, the brothers get wrapped up in a massive plot led by dangerous beings called the homunculi, each of which is named after one of the seven deadly sins. Edward and Alphonse must defeat these homunculi in order to save the world from destruction. Among the most fascinating homunculi is Envy. She is a vicious killer who can transform herself to look like anyone. But, Envy’s most dangerous attribute is her ability to influence people’s thoughts and feelings by making them focus on the successes of others. She seeks to make everyone compare themselves to each other while blinding them to their own personal goodness. As a result, she is able to convince people into hurting each other and doing great evils. Although she is able to don the appearance of whoever she sees, Envy’s true identity is quite different. At the end of the series, after a long battle with one of the main characters, Envy is reduced to her original form, a small green slug-like creature. When Edward sees her in such a pathetic state, Envy starts to cry while screaming in humiliation. She tries to trick the characters by making them jealous of each other. Envy hopes that their jealousy will make the heroes fight while she makes her escape. Edward, however, sees through the ploy and says with sorrow, “Now I understand…you’re envious of us.” When the creature hears these words, she is cast into despair as her greatest shame is brought to light. She cannot bear to live with the embarrassment of being seen as one who is envious of others. We live in a world that prioritizes perception and suffocates itself with comparison. So many people waste their resources making sure they are seen as wealthy, smart, happy, popular, etc… This is really clear in the entertainment industry, especially so-called “reality” TV. It is common knowledge that these shows are the complete opposite of reality! Their only focus is to present a certain image, not what is actually happening. St. Thomas Aquinas defies envy as “sorrow over another’s good in so far as that good diminishes one’s own good name.” Instead of rejoicing for the sake of goodness, we are saddened by it. We spend our time obsessing over someone else’s blessings while Satan blinds us to our own. In the end, Envy is the result of us forgetting about our own belovedness as God’s child. 

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

There is a genre of art from Japan called anime. It is among my favorite types of illustrations. Although anime began in the realm of comic books (called “mangas”), many anime’s have been adapted into animated television series. Among the best is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It tells the story of two brothers named Edward and Alphonse. As the story progresses, the brothers get wrapped up in a massive plot led by dangerous beings called the homunculi, each of which is named after one of the seven deadly sins. Edward and Alphonse must defeat these homunculi in order to save the world from destruction. Among the most fascinating homunculi is Envy. She is a vicious killer who can transform herself to look like anyone. But, Envy’s most dangerous attribute is her ability to influence people’s thoughts and feelings by making them focus on the successes of others. She seeks to make everyone compare themselves to each other while blinding them to their own personal goodness. As a result, she is able to convince people into hurting each other and doing great evils. Although she is able to don the appearance of whoever she sees, Envy’s true identity is quite different. At the end of the series, after a long battle with one of the main characters, Envy is reduced to her original form, a small green slug-like creature. When Edward sees her in such a pathetic state, Envy starts to cry while screaming in humiliation. She tries to trick the characters by making them jealous of each other. Envy hopes that their jealousy will make the heroes fight while she makes her escape. Edward, however, sees through the ploy and says with sorrow, “Now I understand…you’re envious of us.” When the creature hears these words, she is cast into despair as her greatest shame is brought to light. She cannot bear to live with the embarrassment of being seen as one who is envious of others. We live in a world that prioritizes perception and suffocates itself with comparison. So many people waste their resources making sure they are seen as wealthy, smart, happy, popular, etc… This is really clear in the entertainment industry, especially so-called “reality” TV. It is common knowledge that these shows are the complete opposite of reality! Their only focus is to present a certain image, not what is actually happening. St. Thomas Aquinas defies envy as “sorrow over another’s good in so far as that good diminishes one’s own good name.” Instead of rejoicing for the sake of goodness, we are saddened by it. We spend our time obsessing over someone else’s blessings while Satan blinds us to our own. In the end, Envy is the result of us forgetting about our own belovedness as God’s child. 

The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

Few cultures can boast such a rich mythology as the Greeks. From the adventures of Ajax to the sorrows of Oedipus Rex, Greek folklore excels at transmitting profound moral lessons through creative storytelling. One of my personal favorites is the tragic tale of King Midas. After showing hospitality to a friend of the god Dionysius, Midas is allowed one wish. The king decided that he wanted everything he touched to turn into gold. “What is greater than money?” the king thought. With wealth he could buy whatever he wanted and be happy. Dionysius granted Midas’ wish. Soon, the selfish king’s castle was filled with 24 karat gold furniture, tapestries and even food. Excitedly, his daughter ran into the throne room to behold her father’s miraculous power. Delighted by his little girl’s presence, he ran to embrace her. While holding her, the king’s joy turned into horror as his daughter’s flesh slowly changed into metal. He wept over the child’s lifeless body. For his love of gold had stolen his greatest treasure. As usual, the ancient Greeks teach us a valuable lesson. Greed is a poison that blinds us to what truly matters. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, greed is the denial of things eternal for the sake of worldly things. In other words, it is an inordinate love of material things. Greed, also called avarice, replaces eternal satisfaction with temporal stimulation. As beings composed of body and soul, we can only be content by heavenly realities. In the end, even if earthly things can provide a passing pleasure, they cannot definitively fulfill us. When we allow money, time, career and technology to take priority in our lives, we fail to recognize our true happiness and the reason for our existence. This is why- no matter how much television we watch, Netflix episodes we binge, video games we play, money we make or Facebook likes we get- it is ultimately unrewarding. Furthermore, like King Midas, greed steals our attention from what is most precious in our lives. How many mothers and fathers careers get in the way of their parenting? They try to climb the corporate ladder at the cost of raising their children. A family can be happy in a 2000 square foot home just as much as a family can be miserable in a 8000 square foot mansion. How many young adults waste countless hours on social media at the cost of developing lasting human relationships? 1000 Facebook friends is nothing compared to one faithful friend. Satan is a master of illusion. His goal is to make life cheap by seducing us with superficial whims and empty promises. If he can convince us to waste our energies on worthless ambitions or worldly endeavors, then we prove no threat to his influence on culture. We are out of the game. The devil does not mind if you become partner at your law firm if it keeps you from becoming a saint in heaven. He will eagerly buff up your resume if it means dismantling your soul. All the forces of hell will work tirelessly to make you feel comfortable in this world if it means making you miserable in the next. Let’s not be fooled by the enemy’s tricks. We know what true happiness is and who can give it to us. Let us turn to Christ and the Church. That is where our real treasure lies.                            

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

Pride, sometimes called vanity or hubris, is considered the fundamental sin and the mother of all vices. The first sin ever committed was an act of pride when Satan refused to recognize God as his Lord. Likewise, pride was the snare that seduced all of humanity in Adam and Eve as they turned towards their own ambitions to seek a life without God. St. Thomas Aquinas defines pride as “an excessive desire for one’s own self which rejects subjection to God.” But why is this so dangerous? The answer lies in the book of Genesis. We hear that God created man and woman in His own “image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26). In other words, our very existence as a human person is based on God’s own existence. To understand ourselves and what is most basic to our nature, we must know how God exists and the essence of His being. St. John the Apostle gives us a succinct definition: “God is Love” (1 Jn. 4). At first glance, this is a seemingly simplistic assertion. Yet, if we read it with the appropriate lens, its profundity shines forth. Before all else, God is Trinity; three divine persons so united in love that they are inseparable in essence. The Father continually gives Himself to the Son, the Son continually gives Himself to the Father and their love is so utterly complete that it manifests itself as a third person, the Holy Spirit. With this in mind, the genius of St. John’s definition becomes clearer. In saying that God is love, the apostle is summarizing how the Trinity exists. In three words, he is able to capture the source of all wisdom, goodness, justice and peace…to love. As St. Francis of Assisi says so beautifully, “It is in giving that we receive.” The basis of all reality and the origin of all existence is not domination, power or might; it is selfless giving. Sacrificial love is the root of divinity. The most basic attribute of human nature is to love, to seek the good of the other. We are most ourselves when we are given away. St. John Paul II referred this human phenomenon as the “logic of gift.” Now we know why pride is the most horrible vice. It inherently contradicts our human nature. To be selfish is anti-human, it is the most inhumane activity anyone can commit. Likewise, it feeds all other sins. We are greedy, lustful, gluttonous, lazy, wrathful and envious because we are selfish. Pride and selfishness blinds us to reality and turns our gaze inward at the cost of the world’s goodness and the dignity of other human beings. If we want to grow in holiness, then it must start with uprooting pride. We must ask Jesus to turn our eyes from our own desires so as to look upon the cross. Only then can the journey of sainthood truly begin.

The Seven Deadly Sins & The Seven Christian Virtues

In the ancient city of Padua, Italy there is a 14th century chapel built by Enrico Scrovengi. Considered one of the greatest examples of early Renaissance artistry, the building was painted by the illustrious Giotto and boasts some of the most spectacular frescoes in the world. I can personally attest to the magnificence of these frescoes. When I first saw them, I was struck by their stunning clarity and spiritual significance.

Yet, the paintings that most drew my eye were not the so much the one’s depicting the Life of Christ or even the grand fresco of the Final Judgement. Rather, it was a collection of small figures flanking the chapel walls that caught my attention. On one side, there were seven humanoid creatures grotesque and off-putting. The opposite wall likewise had seven characters, but in contrast to their counterparts, they each possessed a comeliness that was quite attractive. Above the fourteen figures heads was inscribed fourteen words in Latin. Upon closer examination, I was able to translate each word. Over the heads of the beastly creatures was listed the seven deadly sins while the characters donned one of the seven Christian virtues. I was struck by the genius of Giotto’s painting. With an artist’s wit, he was able to highlight the tension between that age-old struggle of vice and virtue.

The seven deadly sins were first categorized by St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century. He listed them as follows: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. The saintly pope coupled these vices with corresponding virtues which help us counter the effects of the deadly sins. These virtues are humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence.  

Many of us are unfamiliar with the seven deadly sins and seven Christian virtues. This is dangerous. For if we are not aware of how sin acts and the way Satan deceives us, how can we possibly follow Christ? Furthermore, how can we be a holy disciples if we are not privy to the anecdotes for our vices? In the upcoming series, I will spend time reflecting on the seven deadly sins and seven Christian virtues respectively. This will help us to grow in a deeper awareness of our souls and how we can grow in holiness.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

By: Pope Pius XII

In their homilies and sermons on this feast the holy fathers and the great doctors spoke of the assumption of the Mother of God as something already familiar and accepted by the faithful. They gave it greater clarity in their preaching and used more profound arguments in setting out its nature and meaning. Above all, they brought out more clearly the fact that what is commemorated in this feast is not simply the total absence of corruption from the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary but also her triumph over death and her glorification in heaven, after the pattern set by her only Son, Jesus Christ.

Thus Saint John Damascene says: “It was necessary that she who preserved her virginity inviolate in childbirth should also have her body kept free from corruption after death. It was necessary that she who carried the Creator as a child on her breast should dwell in the tabernacles of God. It was necessary that the bride espoused by the Father should make her home in the bridal chambers of heaven. It was necessary that the Mother of God should share the possessions of her Son, and be venerated by every creature as the Mother and handmaid of God.”

All these reasonings and consideration of the holy Fathers rest on Scripture as their ultimate foundation. Scripture portrays the loving Mother of God, almost before our very eyes, as most intimately united with her divine Son and always sharing in his destiny.

Therefore just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part of this victory and its final trophy, so the struggle shared by the Blessed Virgin and her Son was to end in the glorification of her virginal body. As the same Apostle says: When this mortal body has clothed itself in immortality, then will be fulfilled the word of Scripture: Death is swallowed up in victory.
Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the wholehearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained, at last the supreme crown of her privileges—to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and, like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the ages.