Confidence in Abundant Riches

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

Faith is Trust. Trust in God should yield great confidence, especially as time passes and this trust is proven to be well founded. Sadly, our trust in God is often in matters of money but not in the weightier areas of power, reputation, or the hazy area of “”success””. Those with confidence in God can give and give with no fear of running out, not just in terms of financial charity, but in all charitable matters. Remember that the word “”charity”” means “”love””. It comes from a Greek word, charis, that means love, grace, gratitude and beauty.

The Generosity of Power

If we are confident in God’s ability to care for us, and to eventually bring us to Glory, we do not need to control every situation and/or person but ourselves. The confident Christian is ready to share power or relinquish it, although legitimate responsibility cannot be discarded. As supervisors, we allow room for employees’ initiative, even for bad choices and errors. Because we believe in free will, we want to give others enough room to make good choices, and not “”micromanage””. Under management, we obey reasonable demands with joy and self-abandonment, confident that we will lose nothing in the context of eternity.

As parents and teachers, we can free the young from overly restrictive rules, and not demand that they see everything as we do. We can look for opportunities for them to make decisions and determine their immediate course, coaching and supporting them. Our confidence and lack of fear can permit a bit of “”creative chaos”” in the home and classroom.

In marriage and relationships, it means the deference of Ephesians 5:21. We can be sure as we give in to the other that we will lose nothing in the long run. We can share responsibility, success and failure alike.

By letting go of the desire for control and predictability, we are more free and we also free those around us.

The Generosity of Credit

One thing sure to bother many of us is when someone else gets credit we think we deserve. Whether or not we really deserve it is not a matter of generosity, but how we deal with “”misplaced”” credit is. For many, credit equals success, and to share it or fail to claim it is a problem for the ego. On the other hand, we can create situations where others will get the credit, and let them enjoy success. This is a sacrifice, but look at the example we’ve been given: Jesus came and did the great work of salvation, but lets others take credit for “”converting”” people. As he said, “”others have done the work, and you have come into their gain.”” Giving credit to others who deserve it is a simple matter of truth and justice, but allowing others to claim it wrongly is humility. Yes, it isn’t truthful, but can anyone imagine Jesus worrying over earthly glories? If we deserve credit, we can be sure to receive it at the Judgement. But if we give it away now, perhaps some of our well-deserved blame will go with it.

The Generosity of Time

This is almost funny, in a sad way. Nearly all of us have the illusion that “”my time is my own.”” It isn’t. Everything belongs to God, and He is very generous with time. We are given a good deal of it, and expected to make a return. When we say we don’t have time for reading Scripture, or volunteering, or for children, we are telling a lie. We all waste time. If we used all the wasted time in a fruitful way, we would be far more effective. The first step to being generous with time is to acknowledge that our time is not our own, it is a gift from God. And it was meant to be shared.

For Continued Reading

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2536

“”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis

“”New Seeds of Contemplation,”” by Thomas Merton

“”The Little Flowers of St. Francis””

The Seven Deadly Sins

“Sin creates [an inclination] to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.” Para. 1865, Catechism of […]

The Seven Deadly Sins

“”Sin creates [an inclination] to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.””

Para. 1865, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994

New: the Consequences of the Seven Deadly Sins


The Seven Deadly Sins are really attitudes that underlie sins, whether mortal or venial, first identified by St. John Cassian (360 – 435) in his Conferences and refined by Pope St. Gregory the Great (540 – 604). They provide keys to understanding our faults and the actions that result, and a framework for self knowledge. If we understood how they factor into who we have become, we would understand much more about ourselves and our effect on others. The Seven Deadly Sins never occur as a list in the Bible, but occur many times individually.

Why bother?

Before even beginning a discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins, also known as “”capital sins,”” it may be useful to discuss a few differences among Christians on this subject. Some people feel it is better to take a more positive approach to faith and not dwell on sin. Others believe all sin is equally repugnant to God, and so any classification of sins is wrong. Still others just want to forget the whole thing since they are saved and God loves them and really doesn’t care about all this “”stuff.””

Inscribed in ancient times at the Oracle at Delphi: “”Know thyself.”” Self-knowledge follows closely behind the knowledge of God, and self-knowledge for anyone means knowledge of sin. “”My own heart shows me the way of the ungodly.”” Scripture says we are all sinners, and we don’t mind as long as the sins are nameless and faceless. When we name a sin found in ourselves (by Grace) it is as though we are confronted in the back alleys of our souls with furtive saboteurs and muggers who seek to prevent our union with God. The sudden self-revelation of a serious fault is one thing: the discovery of a deadly sin which we hate very much in others is worse. It is like finding out a spouse is unfaithful, or worse, that we have been blindly unfaithful to the Spouse of our soul.

The following pages on the deadly sins may lead to horrible discoveries. Bear in mind:

  1. Friends will almost never volunteer this information.
  2. If they do, we will not accept it.
  3. God forgives anything, even repeatedly, so do not be afraid.

A combination of good spiritual reading (nothing too recent), nearly constant prayer, and reflection on the repetitive patterns of life works well for naming our sins. Remarks made in job performance reviews and conversations with people who dislike us are especially revealing (Aristophanes). Our enemies usually lack the false charity to deny our sins. No wonder we are called to love them.

The human capacity for self-delusion is nearly limitless. We have all seen people claim great spirituality but do evil things and then ignore or rationalize them. Somehow we think we are immune to this phenomenon.

The Seven Deadly Sins – A List of Capital Sins

The table below lists The Seven Deadly Sins (vices) in the traditional order with the virtues against which they are sins. The history of this list goes back at least to Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. John Cassian, but while the list itself is not strictly biblical, the Bible proscribes all seven. If one or more of these doesn’t seem like a big sin to you, it almost certainly means you have already rationalized it. Work on that one first. By the way, there is no set list of virtues corresponding to these, what follows below reflect our choices.

If you need additional information on Dante’s views of these, it is after the table.

Deadly Sin * **
Opposing Virtue
Brief description
(1) (18%)
Humility Seeing ourselves as we are and not comparing ourselves to others is humility. Pride and vanity are competitive. If someone else’s pride really bothers you, you have a lot of pride.
(5) (5%)
Generosity This is about more than money. Generosity means letting others get the credit or praise. It is giving without having expectations of the other person. Greed wants to get its “”fair share”” or a bit more.
(2) (5%)
Love “”Love is patient, love is kind…”” Love actively seeks the good of others for their sake. Envy resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy is almost indistinguishable from pride at times.
(3) (20%)
Kindness Kindness means taking the tender approach, with patience and compassion. Anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others. Impatience with the faults of others is related to this.
(7) (31%)
Self control Self control and self mastery prevent pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Legitimate pleasures are controlled in the same way an athlete’s muscles are: for maximum efficiency without damage. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. Sex, power, or image can be used well, but they tend to go out of control.
(6) (8%)
Faith and Temperance Temperance accepts the natural limits of pleasures and preserves this natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and other legitimate goods, and even the company of others.
(4) (13%)
Zeal Zeal is the energetic response of the heart to God’s commands. The other sins work together to deaden the spiritual senses so we first become slow to respond to God and then drift completely into the sleep of complacency.
* Numbers in parenthesis indicate position in Dante. ** Percentages indicate results of our poll as of October 25, 2009.


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MTV did a special in August 1993 on the Seven Deadly Sins which involved interviewing various well-known entertainers from the music and television industry. They pretty much all agreed these were not vices and the list was “”dumb.”” (Sigh) Oh well.

(Details: The MTV title was “”Seven Deadly Sins: An MTV News Special Report””; PBS showed it as “”Alive TV.”” First aired on MTV on August 11, 1993. PBS first aired it on August 20, 1993. If you have a copy, please

Additional information (based on requests from readers):


Which one of the Seven Deadly Sins is most popular?

Of the seven deadly sins, this ONE is my biggest failing:
Lust 35%
Anger 18%
Pride 12%
Sloth 10%
Envy 10%
Gluttony 9%
Greed 6%



The Seven Deadly Sins never occur as a formal list in the Bible. Some people say they can all be found in Matthew’s Gospel (chapters 5 through 7), but they are not in a simple list there. Others submit Proverbs 6:16-19, but this is a different list, covering pride, lies, murder, evil plans, swiftness in sin, lies again, causing conflict. Clearly not the same.

These sins were identified as a group around the same time as the Bible was being translated into a single language. Rather than these sins being identified in a single place in the Bible, they are found all through it, from Genesis to Revelation. The letters of the New Testament mention all of these, and many others as well. The Catechism has many Scriptural references in the section that lists the “”Seven Deadly Sins.”” It is well to remember that the Scriptures come from the Jewish and Christian Churches, not the other way around. In both cases, faith preceded the writing.


Lent is a special time of self-examination and thought about how we live. More on Lent.


Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) was a Catholic layman who wrote “”The Divine Comedy,”” which is really three epic poems in Italian: “”Inferno,”” “”Purgatorio,”” and “”Paradiso,”” which are about Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven/Paradise, respectively. In “”Purgatorio,”” Dante places each of the seven sins on a level, with the higher levels closer to Paradise and the lower ones closer to Hell. The numbers in parentheses, in the above table, indicate the level where they are found in “”Purgatorio.”” Dante considers these sins as offenses against love, and groups them accordingly:

Perverted Love: Pride, Envy, Wrath/Anger
Insufficient Love: Sloth
Excessive Love of Earthly Goods: Avarice/Greed, Gluttony, Lust

Dante seems to have had a well-formed conscience. His emphasis on love, in the sense of Christian charity, is impressive. That is not to claim some sort of sainthood, but his ideas were very much in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church at a time when the practice of the clergy often fell short of the doctrine.

The Dao
The Dao – A little article considering the The Seven Deadly Sins from a somewhat Daoist perspective.

St. Thomas Aquinas

The Reverend Barthlolomew de la Torre, O.P. wrote the following on August 22, 2003:
“”Thank you for your excellent web page on the Seven Deadly Sins. A principal classical text not to be omitted is that of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

Pax et fides.
Fr. Bartholomew de la Torre, O.P.

St. Dominic dedicated himself to promoting “”pax et fides””, “”peace and faith””, because without peace, the faith cannot flourish, and he described himself as pursuing this goal by “”singing and gentleness, preaching, imploring and weeping”” (cf. M.-H. Vicaire, O.P., St. Dominic and His Times, pp. 62 and nt. 7, 146, 147 and nt. 80).””
Thank you so much for providing the link! For those unacquainted with Catholic orders, O.P. indicates the “”Ordo Praedicatorum”” (Latin) or “”Order of Preachers””, otherwise known as the Dominicans, founded by St. Dominic. St. Thomas Aquinas joined the Dominicans in 1244. It is worth noting that St. Dominic’s approach to heresy (false teaching), was to teach and debate, rather than take up arms. The text linked above shows how St. Thomas Aquinas argued various points about Pride and the other Seven Deadly Sins. It is worth reading it all, but is of a style rarely seen. It takes patience.

Fulton J. Sheen

Bishop Sheen spoke on a television show, Life is Worth Living, in the U.S. from 1951 to 1957, and the “”Bishop Sheen Program”” from 1961 to 1968. He wrote 96 books and a very large number of articles and columns, including entries in encyclopedias. In his book, The Seven Capital Sins (alba–, he made a connection between the Seven Deadly Sins and the last words of Jesus on the Cross. These assignments are listed here in the order set by Bishop Sheen in addresses from February 26 to April 7, 1939. The connection is not always obvious, so the book is highly recommended for further reading.


Words from the Cross

Wrath/Anger “”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.””
Envy “”This day you shall be with me in Paradise.””
Lust “”Woman, behold your son… son, behold your mother.””
Pride “”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””
Gluttony “”I thirst.””
Sloth “”It is finished.””
Avarice/Greed “”Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.””


C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis might well be considered a modern-day Dante. Try reading “”The Great Divorce,”” a short little book, and compare it to “”The Divine Comedy.”” Lewis, as a professor of medieval literature, would have been familiar with Dante’s work.

Narnia and the Seven Deadly Sins – Dr. Don W. King, Department of English, Montreat College

Christopher Marlowe
Donna Hatsuko Reedy wrote the following on May 18, 2000:
“”I enjoyed your site; it’s quite informative. Just wanted to add another text to your reading list: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The entire play revolves around issues of salvation, and there’s this great scene in which the seven deadly sins are paraded for Faustus. It’ll make a great addition to your already well-supported site.””
Thank you for the suggestion! I’ve put a link to the on-line text here for our readers.
The Tragical History of D. Faustus

Edmund Spenser
Alan Sickler wrote the following on April 26, 2000:
“”I was reading your page on the “”Seven Deadly”” sins and thoroughly enjoyed your definitions of the sins; even better though was the literary occurrences of this that you outlined. However, I was perplexed as to why you failed to mention Spenser’s “”The Faerie Queene””; This work is one of the greatest Middle English / Renaissance pieces ever written, and it is maybe the greatest occurance of the seven deadly sins. I forget which book they are in, but Spenser characterizes each deadly sin as a person – using physiognomy tradition to visualize the vices, and he even models this parade of sins after the pilgrims in Chaucer’s “”Canterbury Tales””. Gluttony rides a fat pig which is symbolic of his nature and etc etc. I don’t know if you’ve read the Faerie Queen or not, but its maybe the most vital occurance of the seven deadly sins – a must read for an enthusist like yourself. Thanks for your time – I enjoyed your site thoroughly.””
I will read it soon, but for now I’ve posted your kind and helpful comments, as well as a link to a Spenser site and “”The Faerie Queene.””

From another kind visitor:

I read through some of your sources for articulations of the 7 deadly sins. One of which was Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The scenario where the 7 Deadly sins are shown is FQ I.IV.1-37 (that’s FQ Book 1, Canto 4, stanzas 1-37). Thought you might appreciate this.
Scott M. Williams>

The Canterbury Tales –

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton wrote a prayer to ask for help against the Seven Deadly Sins. It is found on page 44 of “”New Seeds of Contemplation.”” Much of his focus is on the illusions we have about ourselves, and how to let God clear these away.

Stephen Sondheim

In the play: Getting Away With Murder (or The Doctor is Out), Patrick Phenicie says the following characters appear to represent the seven deadly sins. Here are the characters and sins:




Envy (NV)




Dossie Lustig

Pamela Prideaux

Gregory Reed

Nam-Young Voung

Dan Gerard


Vassili Laimorgos

As you may have noticed, the names seem to form anagrams of the sins (or contain the anagram; some are obvious, some are less so). Patrick and I were unable to figure out how the name “”Laimorgos”” fits into Sonheim’s naming scheme, but Christopher Sabatowich has an idea: Vassili Laimorgos can be rearranged (with some letters omitted) to form the word “”sm�rg�s,”” which is Norse/Swedish for “”bread and butter,”” as in “”smorgasbord.”” In English, “”smorgasbord”” can be applied as a “”varied collection”” of anything, and Gluttony does not apply (exclusively) to food.
T. Nickson writes: “”Vassili Laimorgos is a Greek Name – Vassili links with the Greek word for King and Laimorgos translates literally as Glutton. Sondheim was being clever!””

John Gower

Confessio Amantis

Robert Mannyng

Handling Synne

Hieronymus Bosch

Table of the Seven Deadly Sins

George Balanchine (Dance)

CiCi Houston writes: I found this website very useful for a current project I am working on. Perhaps it would be of interest to your readers to hear how this list has crept into the arts. The New York City Ballet had a production entitled “”Seven Deadly Sins.”” It was originally choreographed by George Balanchine in Europe around 1933 for Tilly Losch. He restaged it in the late 50’s for Allegra Kent, and in both productions Lotte Lenya participated. The ballet focused on Anna 1 and Anna 2. Lotte (1) was the talking half, and would order around Allegra (2), the silent but dancing half. 1 would make 2 commit the sins, or set double standards. For instance, one famous picture of the ballet shows Lotte with an ice cream cone (a clever disguise for the microphone she sang into) pointing a finger at Allegra, who is on the floor pushing herself through a series of stretches and exercises under Lotte’s rule. I’m sure there is much more information than what I have access to, but I’m sure that readers interested in this will enjoy gaining the extra knowledge on a rather hidden piece of work (it was never restaged since Allegra last performed it), whether they approve of the concept or not.
Thanks again for the useful website – CiCi Houston
Thank you, CiCi!

Other Art

The Movies

There was a movie entitled “”Se7en,”” starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. You can read about it at IMDB.

Other Helps Toward Virtue and Peace

The Ten Commandments

With Positive Calls to Love and Freedom


During a U.S. House of Representatives session in 1999, members of Congress were arguing the merits of allowing schools to post a copy of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. During the argument, one Representative demanded to know “”whose Ten Commandments”” would be posted: the Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish? While all three agree on the Scriptures involved, there are minor differences in grouping. This page does not take a position on whether the commandments should be posted or judge who is following them. They are merely posted with a few thoughts on each.


The Ten Commandments (also called the Decalogue) were given to Moses, the great leader of the Hebrews, over 3,000 years ago after the Hebrews were delivered from slavery in Egypt. While the Law of Moses is made up of over 600 rules, the Ten Commandments were a succinct list of rules from which the others were developed. They are recorded in two chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures (specifically the Pentateuch): Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

When Jesus was asked, “”What must I do to inherit eternal life?””, he replied: “”You know the Commandments, keep these and you will live.”” For now, just notice that Jesus attests to the importance of the Ten Commandments. This is why Christians still accept them.

About the numbering: there are at least two sets of numbering used, and both are very old, at least 1,600 years. Most Protestants use the numbering adopted by Josephus and Origen, but Catholics and Lutherans use the numbering of St. Augustine, who took it from a Hebrew list in the fifth century. The numbering is not in the Bible.

The Ten Commandments

The Jewish tradition (according to Scripture) viewed the Law as a gift from God, not an option or curse. Christian tradition views sin as enslavement rather than something fun we are denied. To accept salvation is to be freed from slavery to sin and raised to a new life. In the table below, you can see the commandments and how they free us from sin and free us for a new life.


The Commandment

The Call



I am the LORD your God, you shall have no other gods before me.

Faith (Trust in God)

All faith in God, freedom from lesser gods: wealth, sex, power, popularity.


You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain.



Respect for God and the things of God: prayer, worship, religion.


Keep holy the Sabbath day.


Not just the Sabbath rest, but setting aside time for prayer, good recreation, quiet reflection.


Honor your father and your mother.


Loving care and respect for all family members, elders and younger siblings, too. Respect for elders in general.


You shall not kill.

Respect For Life

Courtesy to all, speaking respectfully to all, seeking the best for all. Respecting others’ freedom while still defending all human life.


You shall not commit adultery.


Faithfulness (Fidelity)

Faithful actions beyond just abstaining from sexual contact outside of marriage. Respect for sex and marriage.


You shall not steal.

Justice (Honesty)

 Concern for the rights of others, especially when they get in the way of what we desire. A commitment to fairness and a willingness to suffer loss rather than depriving another.


You shall not bear false witness.


 A dedication to what is real and true, even if that reality is against our interests.


You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.


 A desire to want only what God wills. A single-hearted devotion to God’s way.


You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.


 A cooperation in God’s own generosity that sees all goods as belonging to God and freely given for the good of all.

The Ten Commandments are found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the section on living the Christian life (2052 – 2557).

When Jesus was asked, “”What is the greatest commandment?”” he responded with two:

Love God and love your neighbor. (cf. Mark 12:28-31)

In accord with this, we see the first three commandments as directed toward the first of these (love of God), and the last seven as relating to the second: love of neighbor.

Scripture References

Exodus 20:2-17
Deuteronomy 5:6-21
Matthew 5; 12:1-13
Mark 2:23 – 3:5; 7:8-13; 10:17-22; 12:28-31
Luke 18:18-23
John 13:34-35

The Ten Commandments in Hebrew –

Other References

The Ten Commandments: Sounds of Love from Sinai, by Fr. Alfred McBride, O.Praem.
This book expresses the Ten Commandments as “”values for loving,”” rather than laws.

Ten Principles for Daily Living – Another Ten Commandments site that puts the Decalogue in terms of what we must do. – A good article on the history of the Ten Commandments – A Lutheran Ten Commandments for children

Conversion 2.0

Last updated: November 22, 1997

“”Contrary to the common belief, a conversion is not caused by the emotions; emotions reflect only a mental state, and this change concerns the soul.””

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “”Peace of Soul””, page 199

“”[Our] real selves are all waiting for us in Him.””

C.S. Lewis, “”Mere Christianity””, Ch. 11

“”Cheap grace is grace without discipleship�””

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “”The Cost of Discipleship””, page 47

“”the desire that began to grow lukewarm may grow chill altogether and may be totally extinguished unless it is repeatedly stirred into flame.””

St. Augustine, from the Letter to Proba (Chapter IX)

“”Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.””

Revelation 2:10c


You’ve come to believe in Jesus, and joined a church. Perhaps you were already baptized and came to a new realization of faith or started going back to church because of a spouse, friend or child. At first it was great or at least good, but now you feel like a musical instrument going out of tune. At first, you were learning new things and changing your life. Old habits and likes were discarded and new ones embraced. Now, Sunday Mass doesn’t have the same joy it had before, and you don’t really look forward to fellowship time either.

Before, you felt like you were waking up from a long sleep; now you wonder if your conversion was only a dream.

Possible Causes

The causes of difficulties of this sort can be grouped into six categories:

  1. Bad intentions from the beginning, possibly unconscious
  2. Bad approach to conversion or an incomplete intention
  3. Wishful thinking
  4. Pelagianism – trying to do things mostly by our own effort
  5. Simple trials
  6. Demonic attack

We can examine each of these, providing examples and possible approaches for a cure.

Bad intentions from the beginning

This does not mean sinful intentions only. Many young adults with small children are seeking a church that will provide a religious influence. Most religions teach respect for parents, and so they may be hoping to have their authority bolstered by a yet higher authority. This is not a specifically Christian problem. Many secular Jews are embracing the more ritualistic aspects of their religion without really even accepting the reality of a personal God. The problem with this is that conversion is a personal process between God and us. We cannot convert for the sake of our children, spouse or friends. In fact, such “”conversions”” are not conversions at all.

If this applies to you, try to forget about everyone else but you and God. Do you want to know Him? Do you believe He loves you right now? Are you willing to do anything to get as close as possible to God? Do you believe that Jesus died and rose? Humbly acknowledge that your intentions were wrong and pray for a real conversion.

Some intentions are actually evil. There are actually people that join churches to get closer to certain people for purposes of gain. Others want to be known as “”church-going people.”” It will be very difficult for such persons to ever have a sincere conversion. True repentance is the only advice.

Bad approach to conversion

Jesus said that a man about to build a tower must first determine whether he can actually complete it. Conversion begins with sorrow for our sins and continues with a gradual and eventually complete abandonment to God. If this seems extreme or harsh, your conversion was probably based on the unrealistic expectation that you could keep at least some small part of your life for yourself. You can’t. God will demand more and more of your life. He will expect you to give up cherished illusions about yourself that you were never aware of. In some cases you will think He is killing you. He is. He is trying to kill the old person so He can make you the person He created you to be.

Did you hold back? Did you think that God would just make life easier for you if you worshiped Him?

If this sounds familiar, try this: Write down your expectations of God. Did you hope He would heal your marriage but let you keep your little circle of friends? Fix your finances but not expect generosity to the poor? Write down what have been disappointments and then give them to God. Accept them as God’s will so long as you are not the direct cause of the problem. If your marriage is bad and you spend your evenings drinking with buddies and playing poker, God is not to blame, and He is not helping you to grow by this.

There is no part way for the Christian, in spite of the many books that promise riches or popularity through “”Christian principles.”” Christianity is not about being a better you. It is about becoming a part of the Body of Christ, and becoming the very hands, feet, eyes and heart of Jesus Christ in the world today.

The Gospel of Matthew offers a few root (pun intended) causes for post-conversion difficulties in this category. The problems listed in the parable of the sower and the seed (Mt. 13:1-23) are worthy of meditation:

  1. The path represents those who do not really understand the demands of the Gospel and so they cannot endure.
  2. The rocky soil represents those who convert only on the surface, without ever allowing God to penetrate into their inmost being.
  3. The seed sown amid the thorns is like the one who takes the Word of God to heart, but does not completely break with the ways of the world, and succumbs to lust, greed or worldly cares.

St. James said it best:

“”Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”” (James 1:22)

Wishful thinking

Sometimes we spend more time wishing than praying. Many wishes go about disguised as fervent prayer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this a wish-dream. We say to God: “”I wish I had more patience!”” or “”I wish I could stop being so critical of others!”” Wishes are for pagans, not Christians. We worship a Father and Son that have promised to send the Holy Spirit, Divine Life itself, into us. Nothing is beyond God. I might wish to win the lottery, but I must truly pray that God will change my cold, dead heart into His holy one. Wishing is insincere and keeps God at a distance.

We must be honest with ourselves. If we have not improved, perhaps we did not truly pray at all. To pray for a virtue is to accept whatever is necessary to obtain it. It means committing to whatever path God chooses for us to obtain the necessary graces.

“”‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that� Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect� This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'””

Mere Christianity, Chapter 9.


The Pelagian heresy (5th century) taught that people are capable of good works without God’s grace. The Council of Carthage, in 418 A.D., stated that without God’s grace, it is absolutely impossible to perform good works.

Sometimes we tire of doing good and striving for holiness because we are the ones doing the work. We hope to have the help of God as we progress in the Christian life, but we know that “”God’s work must truly be our own.”” Unfortunately, we just can’t keep it up. There are numerous facilities for healing burned-out ministers and priests for this reason. While there are certainly problems enough in living the New Life, our primary problem is always that we do not love God as we ought.

God made us to surf the waves of life, not drill like moles through mountains of difficulties. God has created us with such awesome abilities that we get carried away and try to do things on our own.

Our only hope is to completely confess our inadequacy before God. He alone will win the victory for us. As the Council of Carthage stated, the grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God’s commandments, but also imparts the strength to will and execute them.

“”I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”” (John 15:5)

Simple trials

Life is hard enough. Hard enough for us to be refined like gold in the fire. Hard enough for us to be molded by the Father’s hands into a perfect vessel for His delight. There is so much in us that must be purged out, and our lives are so short. The process can be exhausting, especially if we have prayed for humility, that most dangerous of virtues to desire.

If you find that the rigors of everyday life, work and family and relationships, are just wearing you down, try to examine yourself more often. To what degree are your faults aggravating the situation? If you find yourself in quarrels, be honest about your part in it. If you are completely without fault in your eyes, pray for clearer sight. If you know your own part of the responsibility, be grateful for the insight, and pray.

Many problems are truly not our fault, or are caused by mistakes made in good faith. Some of these might have been avoided if our prayer life was better.

As we journey farther from the point of our initial conversion, we face taller, more forbidding mountains of difficulty. Our spiritual life must grow past the sweet milk of our youth and gnaw on the hard bread of the pilgrim. If you are not much of a reader, especially of Scripture, it is past time for you to start. If you are not much given to prayer on your knees before the Blessed Sacrament or a crucifix, now is the time. Don’t wait for a retreat or a tent revival. Find a place or way to place yourself before God in daily private and fervent prayer. Beg God to have pity until He cannot resist you because Jesus told us to do it. Pray quietly the way that Jesus did in Gethsemane so that you can endure your own Calvary.

If you think of yourself as a reader, you probably need more mystical prayer. If you think of yourself as a deeply spiritual person that doesn’t need to read, you very much need to read. In any case, know the Scriptures, especially the Gospel and Epistles (letters). St. Augustine said, “”Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of God.””

Demonic attack

There are cases where a Christian, or a community, is attacked by demonic forces. Some modern minds deny the presence of personal evil in the world, but the Church has never wavered on the issue, and Jesus was very clear about this. The Saints that were afflicted in this way responded with prayer and fasting (penance) according to the recommendation of Jesus in the Gospel (Mark 9:29).

Most of us pose so little threat to the kingdom of evil that no attack of this kind is likely. Direct attacks of this kind usually have the reverse effect anyway: it would only make us run to the Father for safety.

There is a spirit of discord in friendships and communities that tears at the bonds of the Body of Christ. The recommendation is the same: prayer and penance. Many times the problem can be avoided by discernment and wisdom, but these only reach their greatest powers in souls in union with Jesus.

What do Christians believe?

Written for a Non-Sectarian Periodical (1996)

Christianity, the basics.

Christianity was founded by Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish teacher/holy man that taught as he traveled from place to place. About 2000 years ago he spoke and performed miracles in what is now Israel. His mission, as the commonly accepted accounts were written, was to the Jewish people only, although some gentiles (non-Jews) believed in him. Christians believe Jesus is God become Man. While some groups claim to be Christian while denying this “”dogma””, the things Jesus said would be wrong for anyone but God to say. C. S. Lewis’ “”Mere Christianity”” covers this issue well. There are many opinions as to what this means, but the most accepted is the doctrine of “”The Trinity,”” which is not explicitly stated in the Scriptures, but has been taught by the Catholic Church since its beginnings in the First Century. The primary written authority for Christians is the Bible, which is a compendium of writings in the form of myths, legends, poetry, religious and civil law, mystical writing, persecution (survival of) writing, history, advice and letters of authority. There is some dissent regarding seven of the more than seventy books in it. It sounds like a lot of reading, but many people read it all the way through (at nine years of age, I read it through for the first time). There are various other writings widely considered important and to some degree binding, such as the Patristics (“”Writings of the Fathers””) and the Didache (“”did-ah-kay””, a liturgical book), the precursor to the modern books used in the Catholic Mass, or principal religious service. Catholics believe that the primary authority for Christians is the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, the bishops. Acts 2:42 reflects the Catholic view. A Catholic would say that the Scriptures come from this “”deposit of faith,”” called “”Tradition.”” So from a Catholic point of view, the Bible’s authority rests on that of the Church, not the other way around.

From the beginning of Christianity, there has been considerable dissent, so not all Christians agree on all points. Jesus himself was at odds with the Jewish religious authorities of his time, and one of his own followers even betrayed him, turning him over to these same authorities, who in turn passed him to the occupying Romans for the death sentence. Almost all Christians believe Jesus Christ (Christ means “”annointed”” or “”chosen for a purpose””) was crucified (nailed to a wooden structure), died and was laid in a tomb or cave. He rose from the dead (most believe he somehow freed many that had died before him from death as well) and appeared to his closest friends first, and then to a few hundred people that had followed him during his three years of preaching/teaching in Palestine. Almost all Christians (literally, Christian means “”little Christ””) believe that he then left this world in body while remaining present in a mystical way. Common to all is the belief that those close to God in their earthly lives will be resurrected into the same kind of life Jesus enjoys after earthly death. These blessed dead will enjoy the company of God according to their desires, without end. Some Christian sects are quite specific about what this is like and who “”goes there.”” Others agree with St. Paul (a very widely accepted biblical writer) that no one can know what it is like to experience the “”beatific vision.”” Some Christian groups believe only those who have literally been immersed in water (baptized), have made a profession of faith in Jesus and died without rejecting this profession can go to the blessed state of Heaven, though others, such as the Catholic Church, believe it is possible to know God without being a Christian (although baptism should be done) and that God will judge in ways we don’t understand. Most Protestant churches preach that salvation cannot be lost (“”once saved always saved””), but others acknowledge that people can turn their backs on God even after baptism (this is the Catholic view).

Christianity grew under almost constant persecution in most places around Palestine for around 20 years from the resurrection of Jesus. Thanks in part to the Roman roads and the common language of Koine (Greek), Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. Early on, revelations experienced by certain Christian leaders indicated that non-Jews could become Christians without first becoming Jews. This and the understanding that Jesus had to be God incarnate (God enfleshed) forced a break with the Jewish religion. Though the Jewish church had been somewhat influenced by the Greeks, Christianity embraced many Greek ideas, especially Stoic philosophy, as means of expressing Christian beliefs. Christianity therefore came to contain elements of both Eastern and what is now regarded as Western thought. It was a mystery religion combining mysticism and philosophy that encouraged rigorous logical debate. This, in turn, encouraged an incredible diversity, with solitary hermits seeking constant prayer and visions in the deserts and intellectuals participating in public debates with any willing parties. Persecution in various degrees lasted until 312, with nearly every bishop of Rome (pope) martyred during this time, through three hundred years. During the persecutions, becoming Christian was tantamount to a death sentence, but it continued to grow.

Once Christianity was legalized by Constantine and made the state religion in Rome, various heresies (severe departures from generally believed ideas) began to appear. Many of these became tools in political power struggles in the dying, divided Roman empire. Some denied that Jesus was ever really here, that humanity was too “”dirty”” for God to become a real human. Others claimed to be successors to Jesus and attracted powerful allies. Some of these heresies reappeared through to modern times, bringing us to divisions in Christianity, which must be addressed.

By the year 1054, there were essentially three Christian Churches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Coptic (Egypt). The Eastern Church has about 100 million members, the Coptic has far fewer, and the Roman Church has about 800 million or so. These Churches still have the most in common with each other, even to the point of recognizing each other’s episcopal (bishop) authority. With the rise of nationalism in Europe, more and more rulers began to challenge the substantial power Roman popes exercised over them. Some rulers even went to war against the Pope and seized Church property. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century broke the power of the Roman Church eventually and gave it to the rulers of the emerging European nations. The newer denominations of Christianity began to focus on specific areas of belief, such as Baptism and Communion (a reenactment of Jesus’ last meal with his followers). The earlier Churches honored both the Bible and the traditional teachings passed on through documents, letters, councils and practices. The new Protestant Churches abandoned tradition as an authority and began to look exclusively to the Bible only as the “”Word of God.”” It is fundamental to Protestant thought that there can be no earthly authority to interpret the meaning of the Christian Scriptures. During this time seven books of the Bible (Maccabees 1 & 2, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch) were removed for the Protestant versions. Within a few hundred years’ time, Protestantism had fragmented into more than 2000 denominations/sects. Protestant Churches abandoned the idea of priests as a continuation from the time of Jesus and instead focused on the universal priesthood of all Christians. Some Churches consider themselves Christian but have relatively recent origins outside the previous descriptions. An example of this is the Church of England, which has been very close to the Roman Church in practice and broke away from the Roman Church for more clearly national reasons. Their priesthood is very similar to that of the Catholic Church, although their priesthood is not recognized (see Anglican Orders).

From a Protestant point of view, the only explicit source of Christian doctrine is the Bible, although the practice in their own church is often continued without question. Since these Christians believe that any Christian can interpret Scripture (with the Holy Spirit), it is no surprise that there are endless arguments over nearly every word. In the Roman Catholic Church, the magisterium (teaching body) is the ultimate authority for the interpretation of the Bible, as well as tradition. This hierarchical structure tends to give both form and limits to dissent, with the result that there is a staggering amount of written material from its (almost) 2000 year history. So, while it ought to be obvious that every Christian should know the Bible well, Roman Catholics (or those interested in its teachings) have the additional resources of thousands of other books with varying amounts of authority, although none as high as the Bible. The definitive book of Roman Catholic teaching is the “”Catechism of the Catholic Church, “” with the “”Code of Canon Law”” a recommended addition. These books reference hundreds of Christian writings from the last 2000 years. As has been said, there can be no book of authoritative teaching (save for the Bible) for Protestants, by definition. The closest thing might be “”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis, but some Christians will take exception to this.

To specifically answer some of the questions suggested…

What does Christianity offer to its followers? A way to eternal union with God, starting now. Jesus said, “”You shall know the truth, and it will make you free.”” True following of Jesus means living as he would have lived in your circumstances, changing them if he would have. Union with God in this life generally means a life free of superstition, but also without the terror of having to plan everything years in advance. It has elements of both acceptance of the current state of things, the things we can’t change, and the belief that when one must act, it is done with the help of God. This is related to the Trinity, or three-personed God. Christians see God in three personal ways: the Father (Creator, Judge, Ancient One), the Son (Jesus, the Redeemer, the Model, the Healer, the Friend and our Brother), and the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Love between Christians, the Enabler, the Force). This is one God in three persons; a mystery. It is strongly present in the Bible. Really following Jesus always causes radical change inside the person, as would be expected if the Creator of the Universe is in intimate contact with them. Many great Christians followed other religions/philosophies first and then came to Christianity. Many people find the strength in Christianity to defeat or at least control their addictions and passions. Christianity is not about destroying desires, but does teach self-control. Friendship with the Prime Mover and the enlightenment that must follow eventually are major benefits.

Why be Christian? If it isn’t the truth, not much reason. Since Christianity, unlike the Eastern religions, makes many bold proclamations about what is true (as does Islam and Judaism), religions such as Buddhism and Christianity cannot both be right since they are opposed on some major issues, such as whether God is personal, and whether reincarnation is true. The fact that Eastern religions do not deny others is not relevant. Logically, two truly opposing statements cannot both be true, God cannot both exist and not exist. If a person thinks two literal opposites can both be true they won’t like Christianity. That is not to say that Christianity is not full of paradoxes, but it never states two opposite “”states”” or “”truths”” as literally correct, such as “”God exists”” and “”God does not exist.””

Some basic comparisons with other religions, followed by basic tenets:

Goal: To know, love and serve God, now and eternally. This is fundamentally the same as all the monotheistic religions, with the exception of Deism. A large number of nominal Christians in the United States are actually Deists, as were the founding fathers of the country. Religions which believe God is without personality (more of a collective term for the Universe, or all the spirits) frequently espouse a unity with this “”Ultimate Reality.”” These would include Taoism, Buddhism, and some Hindu sects. Christianity is quite strong on the point that one’s personality is retained after death, rather than being incorporated into a Godhead, as in some Hindu sects. Religions such as Confucianism and Shinto emphasize ethical behavior based on reason, as does humanism. Christians, likewise, are expected to use their reason to solve ethical problems. Most Christians believe that errors in judgement are not sins, and that doing the wrong thing thinking (truly) that is is the right thing is a mitigating circumstance.

Attainment: Like most religions, Christianity places the largest value on love of others, frequently shown by charitable works. This is the origin of hospitals and orphanages. However, Christianity says that this is not enough to warrant eternal life, which is given as a gift from God. The charitable works are supposed to emanate from gratitude for the gift of salvation. Another way of putting this is that Christians are supposed to imitate Jesus, who lived a life of service, healing, feeding and teaching. He is one of the few religious founders that never was a warrior. Needless to say, this aspect of Christianity is often missed by the followers of Jesus…

Basic beliefs, based on a Creed defined at the First Council of Nicea, in 325. Here are the tenets of Christianity according to it:

We believe in one all-powerful God.

God made all things whether we see them or not.

We believe in Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. (Note: begotten indicates equality and not the creation of a lesser thing. Consistency of substance. This is not related to the birth of Jesus.)

For our sake Jesus became a man to save us.

Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day.

Jesus ascended into Heaven.

Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

In addition, all Christians believe that God forgives sins without any price being required of the sinner. Catholics (which make up the majority of Christians) add the belief that those in Heaven are still part of the Church and pray to God on behalf of those on Earth. Some other points that the vast majority of Christians believe:

Jesus was born of a virgin, meaning without benefit of a human male.

At some point, humanity “”went wrong”” but was not always depraved. This condition can only be fully remedied by God on an individual basis.

Jesus will not return in a subtle way, but in awesome power. No one knows when this will be but God.

One life to a person. Humans are created, develop a direction, die, and then live their ultimate choice forever. The Catholic Church goes further and reasons that there must be a transition from this life to the next, which varies in degree according to the amount of union with God the individual had attained to in this life. This transition is referred to as “”Purgatory.”” All Christian Churches believe that there is a resurrection of the body as well. It is generally accepted that this resurrection is the same in nature as the resurrection of Jesus, although a gift from God rather than a personal accomplishment.

The Bible is the Word of God. Most Christians have no idea what this really means. On a continuum, fundamentalists usually think everything should be taken literally, with few exceptions. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics believe Scripture should be read in context, so that clearly poetic sections have metaphors, while other books within it are to be taken as binding as written, such as statements by Jesus about love of neighbor. A number of theologians believe that almost nothing of the Bible should be taken seriously, and that practically no words of Jesus there are reliable. This is a theological view and not the teaching of any Christian Church, with some arguable exceptions.

Faith (trust in God), Hope and Love are the most important things. The greatest of these is Love. This Love is not the kind seen in movies, but a pure love beyond price or the physical. These three are known as the theological virtues.

There is a personal force for evil in the world. This person was created by God and turned to evil of its own free will. It is by nature a created thing and therefore inferior to God, and must eventually fail.

As in Islam, the worst sin is Pride. Pride is comparative and competitive. This vice causes a person to want more than another, and all other sins can proceed from it. Sexual sins get all the press, but pride is the far greater problem for humanity.

The capital (or deadly) sins are: Pride, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Sloth.

The cardinal (pivotal) virtues are: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.

The gifts which accompany the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord (this means an awesome respect rather than craven fear).

The fruits which accompany the Holy Spirit are: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-Control, and Chastity.

The above references to the beliefs of others are not infallible: the ultimate facts can best be found by open-minded inquiry with the groups mentioned, through personal contact and reading of their materials. Especially in matters pertaining to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the author submits completely to the Magisterium, and recants any statement deemed misleading or incorrect by that authority.