Humility, Obedience and Charity

On reading this again, it is apparent that it also applies to any job: it describes a Christian attitude to work. Please let us know what you think.

Most of us have known someone that worked in the Church and yet displayed a less than Christian attitude in the midst of it. You know the type: the woman that dusts the windowsills and gets very upset when flower-holders are installed that get in her way. She makes everyone miserable while congratulating herself on the faithfulness of her service to God. Or how about the man that has read the Scriptures at church every third Sunday for 19 years, and now can’t cope with a change in the placement of his chair, or the Bible translation he is to read?

If you are starting to be active in the Church, through lectoring, singing, teaching, or whatever, you would be wise to consider the bad example of so many and begin to pray earnestly to avoid the pitfalls of Church service.

Many priests, nuns and brothers take vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. These are known collectively as the Evangelical Counsels, because the Gospel recommends them. A married friend of mine, married a very long time, says that we all take these vows: Poverty because we can’t have everything we want, Chastity because we can’t have all the pleasures we want, and Obedience because none of us can do everything we want. Lay people sometimes have problems relating to these counsels, though, so I would like to suggest another three that can be derived from Scripture, and will help us serve our brothers and sisters in the Church without succumbing to the temptations of “”Church work.””


Worldly people often sneer at monks, priests and nuns and say “”That’s easy for them! They don’t have to fight for their bread every day like us!”” As lay people, we can take pride in our accomplishments and think that we are tougher than people who have “”escaped the world.”” We can begin to consider ourselves as more important than others, and more capable of dealing with the “”hard realities of life.”” This is called Pride, the worst sin of all.

If we work in the Church, we may be tempted to examine the importance of what we do relative to the work of others in the Church. We may begin to think that we “”own”” the ministry we are engaged in. Even our pastor may be afraid to dislodge us, because he needs the help, and doesn’t want to lose us. We may become petty tyrants over altar cloth or prayer services. We may even lose sight of our Lord in our obsession with His work.

In humility, we do not minimize our work, but we do evaluate it in the “”big picture.”” If we are successful in business, we may realize that we have a duty to be fair and honest as a witness to the worldly. In humility, we acknowledge that the cloistered brothers and sisters support us by their prayers constantly, as they pray for the whole Church. We offer our help humbly, to the Church, to the young people starting out in business, to our customers. We remember that all good comes from God, and that He can take it away, too. We are stewards of the money we receive, and we must spend it as God desires, not just for our own entertainment.

Performing Church work with humility brings joy to us and to others. We take pleasure in knowing that our pastors or other leaders can ask us to change times, locations, methods or duties without worrying about our reaction. “”Remember that he whom you serve is the Lord.”” This does not mean that we never say “”no””, but that “”no”” comes from a good reason, not from pride or habit. We may feel that a change in the time of our service would impact our family in a bad way, or that some practice will be irreverent. Honest and open communication in a spirit of Love really works among holy people. If you are not blessed with holy leaders, do the best you can. Whenever possible, “”defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.””

Humility puts us in a right relation to God and others. This is an essential starting point for service in the Church.

More: Padre Quadrupani


A good question when buying a car: ask the salesperson what kind of car they drive. If they won’t buy the brand they sell; why not?

Any Catholic that works in any kind of ministry is engaging in a kind of teaching ministry. The Eucharistic Ministers teach the sanctity and importance of the Eucharist, and testify to the Real Presence. Altar servers teach the sanctity of the Mass, as do the singers, altar society and ushers. Those that work to help the homeless or that protest abortion teach us about the sanctity of life. Every Christian action in ministry is the Church fulfilling its role as herald of the Truth.

Once we commit ourselves to humility, we know that God makes demands of us, and that we are subject to the teaching of the Church founded by Jesus Christ. If we do not obey Church teaching, and are not repentant, we are not good servants, and still have pride. Like the car salesperson, if we won’t live the teachings of the Church we claim to work for, we are hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another. Of course, we may say the Church is wrong, but then we are spreading doubt, not faith, because if we say we know better in our twenty or forty years than the Church does in all the Saints and ages, why should anyone put faith in any of it? Like so many parents say as the children wander about at the open door: “”In or out, in or out!””

Get a copy of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, and read it. If anything bothers you, study and search for an answer. Try hard to accept it. Talk to a priest, or several people that you know have given the matter thought and can express themselves clearly. Mail me if you have to, but keep knocking until you get an answer you can live with!

As any parent knows, obedience is difficult to develop. We have strong wills. Pray for the humility to be obedient.


Once we are on the road to humility, and are committed to obeying the teachings of the Church, charity (also known as love) becomes possible. Without humility, we may invent our own kind of (self-serving) love. Without obedience, our love will be lost for lack of a shepherd. In humility, we accept God’s definition of Love. In obedience, we commit to carrying out the demands of Love. Love perfects zeal, brings endurance and oils the parts of the Church, which is us. In love, we can bear patiently the faults of others. Love is a great power, and allows us to serve God through others past the point of exhaustion. A life filled with God’s Love is a great light to the world, and draws many people to Jesus.

A life of service rendered to God’s people in Humility, Obedience and Charity will be truly fertile: attended by conversions, beauty and joy. Why would anyone desire less?

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


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””


“”… keep our minds free from passion and as cheerful as we can..”” – St. Thomas More, 16th Century

“” This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”” – 1 Corinthians 7:35

“” Certain constant characteristics appear throughout the Psalms: simplicity and spontaneity of prayer …”” – The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2589

From Barb on February 11, 2009:
“”Do you have any information on living the simple life? How as followers of Christ do we view our things, time, relationships etc.. How does one live a life with God at the center? Thanks. Great website!””

The song “”Simple Gifts“” declares it a gift to be simple and follows it closely with the “”gift to be free.”” Most discussions of, or exhortations to, simplicity treat it as a matter of the external, material possessions in one’s life, or rather the lack of them. For a change, let us consider inner simplicity and what manner of life follows from it. When examining some device, the discerning person may note whether it is simple or complicated. Many people understand that delicate, complicated devices often fail or require too much care. A simple pair of scissors may remain useful past fifty years or more, and computers, the most complicated device most people own, fail with viruses, liquids dropped on the keyboard, or simply become slower until they must be replaced. In the same way, the complicated person is fragile, frustrated and more often presents a problem than a solution. The ultimate human complication is pride.

The simple life, in terms of the inner life of a human being, consists in simple existence, and this is humility. Simplicity is humility. This simple life is not about the collection of material goods, indeed, but is even more a freedom from the gnawing need for conspicuous consumption, which in turn proceeds from a need to show one’s worth. Sin complicates life, and freedom from sin simplifies it. In Zen, there is dukkha and tanha, the pain of complication and the desires that cause it. These desires are not merely for physical possessions, but an insistence that we are something we were never meant to be, and the possessions are sought only as proof. Having a large library proves we are intellectuals, money proves we have worth, lovers prove we are powerful. The complicated life, like a complicated computer or car, needs more maintenance, or at least more credit. More things, more so-called friends, more memberships, more fame are needed to fire the boilers of the mad machine, a juggernaut that begins by crushing others and ends by crushing itself. In the complicated life, one must work harder and harder to hide from the true self, creating a more and more elaborate and chaotic illusion to wrap around the small, frightened child of God inside.

The simple life begins in truth and never ends. The self is accepted as a mystery known only to God, and life is accepted as a gift that needs no gilding. The simple person may be a great mathematician, physicist or doctor, and possess vast knowledge of science, history, or biology, yet remain a person without illusions, without pretense, and without a need to be any more than what they are. This implies no distaste for their own talents, or the false humility which is yet another illusion. Knowledge, skill or even great responsibility does not require illusion. Abraham Lincoln remained simple as president, even while conducting a war with terrible consequences. Quite probably, his simplicity, his simple humility, was a great asset and left him free to use his intellect and compassion to conduct a nation’s affairs with greater skill than has been seen since.

The simple life can be understood. Simple people understand each other, then can be direct with each other in simple speech, and they can trust each other. In Heaven, all are simple because all the illusions, the unnecessary parts of us that we add as an improvement on the Creator’s work, have been taken away. The passions complicate us, but overcoming them with reason and Grace quiets the storm and stills the waters. God’s forgiveness of sin is a simplification, just as the algebra student simplifies an equation, taking away all the expressions with no value, reducing it to a simpler form that expresses the truth in perfect economy. The forgiven person is completely free, and can make choices without concern for illusions or proving anything to anyone.

Considering all this, it is indeed true that that inner simplicity generally results in fewer possessions, a more relaxed life, and a kind of harmony with the universe, but these are all relative. A hermit reading Thoreau by the pond may be full of pride because of an imagined simplicity, while a harried office manager may be utterly unconcerned with his or her image, simply doing the best job possible, supporting customers and fellow workers reliably, and living within the means the job provides. The worst path to simplicity is to attempt it directly. Integrity, humility, prayer, charity, cheerfulness, honesty, and joy in knowing our littleness before God are bound to simplify. Complications, inner or material, are avoided by such a person because they distract from these beautiful things, and above all because they come between us and God, and can only make life less joyful.

For continued reading:

“”The Great Divorce ,”” by C.S. Lewis

“”The New Man ,”” by Thomas Merton

The Tao of Pope St. Gregory the Great

The Seven Deadly Sins and Wu Wei

Please don’t send corrections for the spelling of “”Tao””. Yes, it could be “”Dao””. There is a certain humour in the controversy.

A rough translation of “”The Tao”” is “”The Way,”” and this philosophy/religion appears to have originated in China between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D. The broad dating is due to disagreements. It is attributed to Lao Tsu. For now, let us not debate the origins and distortions of Taoism. We will look at one aspect, wu wei, and consider Gregory’s list of seven deadly sins (attitudes) from this perspective.

Translations of philosophy from ancient languages to modern often pose a problem. Wu wei can be translated as “”no purpose””, but the complete phrase is “”wu wei and not wu wei.”” Some translate the whole phrase as “”do not act, yet act.”” Huston Smith’s translation: “”Don’t waste energy.”” Some translate it as avoiding purposeful action, others as avoiding unnatural, affected actions.

Dante will be our guide, as we will use his sequence for the Seven Deadly Sins, starting with the least hellish attitudes and working our way toward the worst. Think of it as a conversation between Dante, Gregory and Lao Tsu.

1) Lust – From a Catholic perspective, Lust is the desire for pleasure run amok. Most people, reasonably, think of the drive for sexual pleasure as Lust. Quite literally, sex outside of marriage is useless activity. In marriage, sex can be a useful activity, bringing new life and strengthening the bond between husband and wife. In marriage, the couple has decades to pursue sexual closeness at a leisurely pace, without striving or artifice. Outside marriage, sex is a source of conflict, proof of power or beauty, commodity to be bought or sold, marketing tool or agent of death. The drive for illicit sex fuels a multi-billion dollar sex industry while human beings starve and kill each other. Men go to great lengths for sex, and women spend time and money to be more attractive to these men. What a waste of energy. And those who often succeed in these pointless pursuits find no happiness, just a desire for a different partner or experience.

2) Gluttony – Although it applies to food, let us consider the consumption of anything past the point of usefulness. Clearly, this is wasted energy. People eat more than they need, drive bigger cars than necessary, waste electricity on all manner of useless trinkets and have more shoes than they truly need. All of this while so many starve. Sadly, the world economy might collapse if people only consumed what they must. Not every treat is useless, though. Parties and desserts serve a worthy purpose, but lose their charm when commonplace. Gluttony is like a musical piece played entirely loud, with no soft passages.

3) Wrath/Anger – There is a kind of useful anger, as demonstrated by Christ in the Cleansing of the Temple, but most anger is a waste of energy. Shaking a fist at drivers who displease us, yelling at children for being children, resentment because someone didn’t do as we might have liked, these are all a waste of energy. People say, “”No, it feels better to express it.”” Maybe, or maybe not. Expressed anger causes stress for others and is not calming to the one who expresses it. It would be better to consider the “”Serenity Prayer,”” and accept what we cannot change.

4) Sloth/Laziness – This is a funny one, because some might consider wu wei laziness. But only taking effective action is taking action and far from laziness. And laziness is a kind of action, too. It can be difficult to do nothing, especially when others require our assistance. Children ask their lazy parents for a cup of water. Customers have a question about a product. The boss wants that report. Zeal does not seem wu wei, but it is. Not the foolish “”zeal”” of zealots, idealogues who “”having lost sight of their goal, redouble their efforts,”” but focused and effective action, and no more or less than necessary.

5) Avarice/Greed – Like Gluttony, this is about desiring to possess more than is useful. No matter how much is acquired, it is never enough, and there is no real enjoyment, only the fear of loss. This useless striving can never result in happiness, and is truly a useless activity.

6) Envy – In the first place, we can never have what is possessed by another. Possession is a matter of both what we have and who we are. This is why the same object may bring happiness to one person but grief to another. So to desire what another has is foolish because it will not be the same for us. Riches, fame, or power wielded well by one may destroy another, so wearing out our souls in envy is a waste of effort.

7) Pride – And so we come to the biggest waste of all. In the poem, “”Ozymandias,”” we hear the boasting of a mighty king long since dead. Death is indeed the great equalizer, coming to the great and small, and none avoid it. Ants and corporate giants both die, but for us there is also judgment. All pride is a waste because our view of ourselves matters not at all in the end, when our lives are revealed for all to see. All pretense, all show, all vain posturing is gone, and there is none but the self remaining, naked before its Maker. Far better to live in truth, simply and without spin or image. This is humility, prized by many but understood by few.

This article does not attempt to explain either Taoism or Christianity, but rather provide something to think about. More on Taoism and wu wei can be found through search engines, and more articles like this one abound on this site.

Lent and Liberation

Giving up our servitude for Lent

While Lent is a time of fasting, abstinence, almsgiving and prayer for more than a billion people in the world, these practices are not always examined and their full value is easily missed. This is especially true for fasting and abstinence, seen as something we do for God, but liberating for us. Another view of these sacrifices is that we trade something good for a greater good, and gain freedom through the effort. In fact, fasting and abstinence can help us find material and spiritual freedom.

Isaiah, writing more than 2,600 years ago, said fasting was more than giving up food; God desires that we free those bound, share our food, shelter the oppressed and homeless, clothe the naked and live out our obligations to others (cf Is. 58:6-7). But in a reverse action Donne would appreciate, enriching the lives of others improves our lives because we are all part of the same human race. Giving up or reducing material pleasures such as food or entertainment can result in greater freedom and a richer life by showing us what we don’t need. Thomas Merton applies the Zen definition “”when hungry we eat, when tired we sleep”” to modern life in reverse: “”we eat even when we aren’t hungry.”” Our voraciousness consumes plants, animals, land, trees and other people’s freedom at a rate matched only by the waste we discard. To limit our use of good things is to be liberated from our own appetites, and so the invitation to fast is an invitation to freedom.

We are physically dependent on certain essentials, such as food and water, so it may seem a cruel irony that we cannot be fully free from all needs. But Lent is a Christian season, and Christ came to free us not from physical bondage (yet), but from the bondage of sin. Christians believe in a physical transformation at the end of time, but the work of spiritual liberation has already begun, and we have only to join the Resistance. As spiritual beings, our desire to overconsume makes no sense. To ravage and foul our world (personally and globally) is to deny our belief that the life of the spirit is more enduring and of more value. The more we immerse ourselves in the material world, the more it obscures the spiritual, and the more we forget who and what we are: made in the “”image and likeness”” of God. At the same time, judicious use of our personal and natural resources can be an expression of this identity, just as an artist uses their sense of proportion and restraint in communicating meaning in sculpture, painting, dance or music.

We are advised by Isaiah (and many others, in many religions) to abstain from injustice and sin, and this is a call to be free spiritually. It is so easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of thought: racism, us vs. them, pessimism, anger or pride. Fasting from these is more difficult, but in these areas we have the greatest potential for victory in this life, for total liberation is possible. Justice, magnaminity, joy, kindness, humility and love are gifts to us from God, but we have to desire and embrace them, and this can’t be done with arms full of hate and pride.

If it seems that our sacrifices in Lent are actually to our benefit, and not really a gift to God, good. God knows, loves, gives, liberates and transforms. He requires nothing from us, but provides everything, including life itself. We are made in God’s image, according to Scripture, and in reducing our desires and needs with the help of grace, we become more like our creator.

Other Links On Lent:

Another View of Lent

Lent FAQ

Faith Questions From the Guestbook

9/98 to 2/99


Some of these questions involve practices we, as Catholics, do not believe in. We can only say what we believe, but no condemnation or ridicule of any person is intended, especially in matters of religious practices followed in good faith.

Questions are edited to preserve space, remove offensive or suggestive language, or to protect the dignity of the writer. Mail comments or questions to us, or visit our home page.


From Jeff and Donna:

Your info. on the mark of the beast is interesting. I’m also interested to know if you think the Y2K problem is going to have an effect on the mark and the end of the world.
I have a collection of end times books here, with quite an array of years when Jesus was supposed to have returned. Many people that joined the Church out of fear of the end of the world dropped out later when it didn’t happen as predicted.

The rule behind our site, for the most part, is that I try not to write anything that wouldn’t have been true at any time in Christian history.

As regards the mark, given our “”meditation”” on it, Y2K has already had an effect: people are stocking up on food, hoarding gas, and buying weapons to protect their cache. What little faith they have is growing less as the new millenium approaches. Most people have always behaved as if God did not exist.

Of course, the Father has already determined the end of the world, and all years are merely markers on the way. As St. Irenaeus wrote, all of Creation came from God and will return to God. It is inevitable that Christ will triumph, and the Church with him. The Cold War, the stock market, scandals, and Y2K are distractions from this fact.


Phil writes:

Read the nice article on your website in the LA Times this morning and logged on to have a look. Really like some of the things you are doing. Have been thinking about the great possibilities of the Internet for Evangelization. Would be interested in your ideas about reaching out to largely unchurched Americans, particularly the 20-35 year old group who are searching for values and meaning in life, but are generally turned off by institutional religious expressions. Have you thought about this audience?

Yes, I’ve thought about this audience a great deal. According to Wired Magazine, Internet users tend to be unchurched libertarians with little regard for religious expressions in general. I feel I’ve had some success (and a few spectacular failures) in this part of the population. Our plan (as a Church) was laid out very well at Vatican II: live better lives (closer to Christ), encourage media-gifted Catholics to proclaim the faith, and develop a deeper sense of Sacramental life. Given this rational and effective plan for the conquest of hearts, the American response (among the media-gifted and credentialed laity) has often been to disregard the Church’s teaching on personal sanctity, forget about Jesus and concentrate on discrediting the Scriptures.

Jesus was attractive to people because “”he taught with authority, and not like the scribes.”” The Apostles were fearless in testifying to the Resurrection. Their disciples were also on fire, suffering martydom rather than compromising their faith. When we attempt to make the Church “”marketable”” we remove the heart and head. The way to call others is to speak the truth as defined by the Magisterium in a fresh, straightforward way without “”spin,”” acronyms or jargon.

The answer is for us to live the faith and let God do the rest.


Marie writes:

Who or what is the mark of the beast?

The beast is mentioned in Revelation 13 (in the Bible). Actually the beast mentioned is the second beast. The number 666 is associated with it (verse 18).

Many interpretations have been given to this. Those who claim to take the Bible literally expect a real number or name to be stamped on people’s hands or foreheads. Others just ignore it completely, or say it only applied to the early Church.

As Catholics, we try to read the Scripture in context. Jewish tradition of the time called for devout Jews to wear small boxes on their hand and forehead. They contained small bits of paper with Bible verses on them. These served as reminders and metaphors: they truly had God’s Word on their minds. So it is natural that the writer of Revelation would have seen the “”mark of the beast”” as being put on the places where the Word of God should have been. In other words, people exchanged faith for the beast. When people buy into the world’s values, chasing fame, money, power or sex, they are receiving the “”mark of the beast.”” Worrying about numbers in bar codes on food packages is just plain superstition, which is forbidden to Christians.

If we are ever asked to receive an actual “”666″” mark, literally, we should refuse it, of course. Someone opposed to the Church could try to shake people’s faith in that way, and it would be scandalous to receive such a mark, if it was clear. Again, worrying because someone has freckles in three groups of six is just superstition.

For more details on the real “”mark of the beast,”” see:




Jon from Florida writes:

>message: Is it against the law of GOD to eat meat and drink milk in the same meal? Where in the bible can I find this ?
This is the stricter rabbinic interpretation of Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21:

“”You shall not boil a kid [goat] in its mother’s milk.””

This bizarre practice was apparently a Canaanite (pagan) practice, and so was forbidden. The interpretation of some is that it forbids eating or preparing meat products and dairy products together. Hasidic Jews keep separate plates for the two types of food. I remember reading about the necessary dental care between the meat and cheese. If memory serves, you can find out more in “”The Jewish Book of Why,”” a fairly popular book about ten years ago.
This is an excellent example of “”proof texting,”” or taking a Scripture out of context to prove a point. It is almost the rule for many evangelists, although they don’t usually talk about this particular “”law.””


Daniel from Idaho writes:

Hey, good page. I don’t know if you know this or not, but you those bar codes that are printed on food items to be checked out by the cashier with a laser machine. Did you know that each of those bar codes are separated into three separate parts with the number 6 identifying each one. It brings out the number 666. You may want to check it out some time. Maybe that’s what the Anti-Christ will punch onto people’s foreheads. It’s kind of scary when you think about it.

The good news is you don’t have to worry about it. For starters, take a look at this site:
Then, . Using these or any other reference pages, check it out for yourself. God judges the heart, not the forehead. Other recommended reading:
and see if you can get some of Thomas Merton’s audio tapes from his talks to novices. His view is that we have more to fear from our own illusions than inks and lasers.


Don writes:

>message: Can you mail me information more about a war among the angels?
The reference in the Scriptures is Revelation 12:7-9. This reflects the
Tradition that Holy Michael the Archangel fought against Satan and prevailed. He
is also mentioned in the books of Daniel and Jude. (By the way: We named one of our sons after St. Michael.)


From lots of people:

Where are the Seven Deadly Sins listed in the Bible?

They aren’t, at least not as such. Take a look at the bottom of our “”Seven Deadly Sins“” page. It has some information on the origins.

What colors are associated with them?

There is no universal convention for this that we have been able to find. We would appreciate it if anyone knows of one.

How do they relate to a twelve-step program?

I think these sins might be part of steps 4 through 7:
4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.
6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
I think very few if any people ever really complete step 4… Step 7
certainly requires a kind of humility, but then again, all 12 do.
Another interesting thing is that the 12 steps assume God will transform our
lives now, at least to some degree. I take great hope in this.


From Wisconsin:

I am curious how to convert from being Lutheran to being Catholic.
The short answer is to ask your local Catholic priest about R.C.I.A. Since
Lutheran baptism is Christian baptism, we would not baptize again. How
involved the process is depends on the person. For a Lutheran living the
Christian life and with a well-formed conscience who desires to reject those
of Luther’s teachings in conflict with the teaching of the Catholic Church,
not much needs to be done. For Lutherans who have not followed (or have been
unaware of) those Christian teachings on which Lutherans and Catholics
agree, the process should be longer.

Also I am curious on the Catholic rules of marriage.
If you can find a copy of “”The Code of Canon Law,”” you can look at the
requirements/rules for marriage. The Catechism (there is a link on our home
page) has the Catholic understanding/teachings on marriage. You can find
some reflections on this on our pages, too (links below).
Catholics may not divorce and remarry. Many people have heard of annulments,
which simply state that a marriage was not valid. If, for instance, a couple
gets married and it turns out the husband was planning to keep a mistress,
the marriage could be annulled because he never intended to contract
Christian marriage (defective intent). This can seem very legalistic (it
is), but we are trying to do what Jesus said and still allow that sometimes
people have not truly given themselves in marriage.
In short, St. Paul said that marriage is to be a sign of Christ’s love for
the Church (Ephesians 5). That is why Lutherans and Catholics both view
marriage as a Sacrament (an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give
Grace). This view of marriage is so radically different from the world’s
view (and many churches) that most people have never heard it said.


From someone on AOL:

I enjoyed Why Do You Seek The Liviing Among The Dead, just wanted to say so.

Thanks! It isn’t a question, but a great advertisement!


From the Philippines:

message: Is it possible that the joy of our salvation will eventually fade little by little as a believer grows mature in his faith?
In real Christian maturity, the joy of salvation deepens over time as the
Christian grows in the understanding of what salvation means. The gratitude
then becomes greater, and gratitude brings greater humility and love.
A wonderful thing that happens with maturity is that we begin to really
trust God in everything because He has cared for us for so many years. In a
way, God proves Himself to us over time.
Another nice thing about maturity is we sometimes run out of things to say to God, so
we can finally just listen to Him.


A while after writing the response, I read a book on contemplative prayer by Thomas Merton. He says that sometimes the joy does fade as we lose the illusions we had about our faith, and as we realize we really don’t know God as fully as we had thought. I think it depends very much on the person.

From hotmail:

Well my question to you is that, I am doing a research project on pride
and I would like all the information that you may have on pride and why do
you think that pride is the deadest of the seven deadly sins.
I hope to write a page on this soon, but perhaps I can write a few things
down now. Sorry for the short format, but work is keeping me very busy.
1) I’d recommend reading “”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis. The chapter on
pride is called “”The Great Sin.”” Very good. Looks good on a bibliography,
2) Some people group sins into fleshly and spiritual sins. Sins of the flesh
can only last as long as flesh. Death always ends them. Spiritual sins like
pride can last through eternity, the Devil being an example of this. Also,
sins of the spirit are more difficult to see or control, so they get out of
hand quickly. When I used to ride horses, I often found ponies a bit mean.
One explanation was that they seldom had an experienced rider, so they never
got any discipline. It may be the same with spiritual sins.
3) From a Scriptural view, pride was the first sin committed by Satan. Eve
was tempted (and fell) through pride: “”You shall be as gods.”” Cain’s pride
was the reason for his hatred of Abel, and so was the root of murder.
I know this isn’t much, but I hope it helps a bit. I will pray for you and I
hope you get an “”A”” on your paper.


From many people:

How can I deal with sexual temptation? I fail all the time, even though I want to do better.

  1. Spend at least a half-hour a day reading Scripture, especially the New
  2. Be active in your faith community – if Catholic, attend Mass on Sunday
    and holydays without fail.
  3. If Catholic, go to Confession at least four times a year. If you fail to
    the point of mortal sin, go to Confession as soon as possible. Find a priest
    that is supportive but does not minimize the problem.
  4. If you feel guilty, ask for forgiveness and accept it. Let go of the
    guilt for forgiven sins.
  5. Drop any friends that think it is stupid to worry about lust.
  6. Increase the variety of your friends. See (2), above.
  7. Avoid T.V. or magazines that tempt you. Be honest with yourself about

I wish I could do more to help, but there is no “”magic”” for this. Much of this is a
matter of habit. All bad things are a twisting of good and healthy things,
so be careful not to despise sexuality. It is created by God, so it must be
good (when used as directed).


Brian writes:

Regarding computers: As a person who is knowledgeable of both topics, how do you
find a medium between these two different worlds, (ie the world of computers and technology/God as described in the biblical sense) I have some stuff on my web site now about this question at

I took a look at your site (which was nicely done by the way). I don’t
really experience much of a conflict for several possible reasons. I’ll try
to make a few points about this. Please let me know if it makes any sense.

First, you might as well ask how St. Paul found a medium between his
knowledge of tentmaking and his faith. Computers and technology are only
tools, just like the tentmaker’s needle, only they have more parts. I think
this is a valid question for most people at most times: how do faith and the
practical aspects of life come together? Since I’m Catholic, I think in
terms of “”orem et laborem”” or “”prayer and work.”” Work of any legitimate kind
can be prayer if it is done in the right spirit. Since Jesus has chosen to
dwell in us, my work is his. When I write a new piece of code that will help
my customers, it is Jesus who writes it, Jesus who uses it. I firmly believe
the Holy Spirit gives me the ability to work in my fields.

Another problem in the modern world is Fundamentalism. As science learns
more about the physical aspects and history of our world, those people
believing in a literal interpretation of Scripture (in their particular
version of literal) feel threatened. Many people are more critical of
Scripture, especially of apparent contradictions. This, of course, weakens
the faith of some, while others will devise elaborate arguments to prove
that evolution must be the Devil’s lie. Again, being Catholic, I see Genesis
as a book of theology and sacred history, not a tabloid to satisfy my
curiosity or a crystal ball for the future. I believe God has revealed the
truth about His relationship with us, and our place in Creation, not the
mechanics of it. Science only affirms my faith: we have a built-in desire to
know everything, which is not surprising since we are made in the “”image and
likeness”” of God (Imago Dei). All of Creation speaks of the Glory of God, so
the more I learn of Creation, the more I can give glory and praise to God.

I would recommend listening to some tapes of Thomas Merton’s talks to young
monks back in the 60’s. He gave a series of talks on the “”Church and the
World.”” He says there are two aspects to the world: the physical, true
aspects (computers, trees, work, food) and the illusions the world has about
itself (more is better, greed is good, pride). We must be in the first
aspect, but we are called to leave the second. The Gnostics left the first
and wallowed in the second. Modern Christians live in both (the quote from
DC Talk on your site was a good one).

None of these answers are complicated or terribly inventive. Once upon a
time, a woman asked St. John Vianney how she could best get to Heaven. His
reply was: “”Straight as a cannonball.”” 2 Kings 5 is worth a read.

I hope this helps. If you hung around with our family and friends for a while you would be able
to write a better explanation of how everything works. Dietrich von
Hildebrand says that the Christian must not be objective about God because
to be objective is to stand away and look. We are called to union, and so
our writing will always be subjective. Because of this, I fear I may not
have answered your question well. It is like asking a fish to describe


From Sarah (writing a paper):

Hi. Thank you for responding to my question about premarital sex. I have
another question. You said that fornication is “”voluntary sex between two
unmarried persons.”” Wouldn’t fornication be a synonym for premarital sex
Absolutely. Although, to be most correct, premarital sex is a euphemism for
fornication. It makes it sound better by referring to marriage (marital).

If sex is what consummates the marriage and makes the two into
one, what do you think about sex between engaged people who know that it is
God’s will that they are to be together?

If one accepts this, it means that breaking the engagement would be a
divorce and the couple would not be free to remarry. I know most churches
explain away the Gospel commandment forbidding this, but it is very clear in
spite of the supposed “”exception.”” In this case, the engagement ring becomes
the wedding ring and everything else but living together happens sooner.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul speaks to engaged couples and speaks of young men
“”keeping [their] virgin[s].”” He said that engaged couples could either
remain celibate or marry. This absolutely says that engaged couples
practiced chastity, since he refers to the women as “”virgins.”” If your paper
permits you could use the Didache, the first catechism from around 70 A.D.
I’m sure it speaks to this, but even if not, it is a great read and tells a
lot about the early Church. I’m always amazed whenever I delve into the
Patristics. St. Augustines’s Sermon 82 is very good on this subject.
Maybe I should explain why I am asking these questions to better help you
understand where I am coming from. I am writing a paper about premarital
sex in relation to what the Bible says. I am trying to take into account my
own presuppositions, tradition, and also the culture of the day.
Part of the problem is that the early Church took their faith so seriously
that a lot of things were kind of assumed. Even cultures with very loose
morals did not allow premarital sex. On the other hand, people got married
much earlier and didn’t smell very good. It sounds funny, but I really think
we are more tempted than at other times and in other cultures.
Since I’m Catholic, all the papal encyclicals (letters) and bulls (orders,
declarations) and Councils mean a lot. These absolutely affirm the chastity
of engagement, too. The current Catechism (a link is on our web site) may
help. You can search for “”premarital”” and “”engaged”” and the resulting
matches will probably have several Bible references, and you may find some
phrasing that would be helpful, too.

I have to give a few talks in the next couple of days, and one of them is on
Natural Family Planning. One thing I point out is that every couple has to
abstain sometimes, and the engagement time is a kind of preparation.

Please pray for me. One of the talks is to a very large and somewhat
prestigious group. It is on “”The Root of Catholic Moral Theology,”” so you
can understand why I’m a bit nervous.

Anyway, engagements can be broken and the wedding is the public statement of
commitment. One reason our Church teaches that engaged couples should not
get into sexual situations is because things can easily get out of control.
Decisions about marriage, commitment, or “”God’s Will”” should never be made
in the heat of passion. We rarely make good estimates of God’s will where
our own will has a vested interest.

For some Christian couples, long engagements mean years of medium-level “”petting,”” with occasional lapsesfor which they feel guilty. Not really what Jesus intended for us, “”the light of the world.””

Hope you don’t mind a bit of sermonizing. I pray you can use some of this in
some way. Papers for school can sometimes do a great job of educating
people, and you might consider publishing your paper on the web. I’d be glad
to help you do it.


From Dennis in Indiana:
message: Will you please Email me a copy of the Saint Augustine’s letter to Proba? Thanks
(I quoted from it but did not have a link.)
This will allow you to look at footnotes. If you have problems with the link, let me know and I’ll copy/paste it into mail. The site has a search engine for the Patristics, too:
I should add it to the links on our site…
What is weird is that I can’t find this letter in Jurgens or Quasten… The
Wheaton site is the only place I’ve seen it, although I’ve seen it referred
to once on the Net.

An Effective Witness of the Gospel

Twelve Ways to Be a Better Christian Witness

Quality is one of the principal problems in evangelization. For the Gospel to be shown to the world, Jesus Christ must preach it: he must be visible in the evangelist not only to believers, but to those that are indifferent or even hostile to the Gospel. Few of the “”public”” evangelists really resemble Christ by their well-groomed looks, their many possessions or their bank accounts. That Jesus was poor is not the point; he lived a life like many others, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and living in much the same way as the ordinary people around him. In general, the millionaire, the factory worker, the teacher and the homeless person can all be effective witnesses to the Gospel within their own way of life.


Before proceeding, it may be good to examine what is meant by “”witnessing”” and “”the Gospel.”” Witnesses are called in a trial to testify as to events, facts, or to weigh in on the side of truth in some dispute. Witnesses may be disreputable, in which case their testimony may be discounted or ignored entirely by a jury. The testimony of many witnesses may conflict, their demeanor may indicate deception, or their own statements may be inconsistent. The jury is free to take all these things into account when rendering judgement. Their judgement may be in error if the witnesses are of poor quality, and a just man may even be condemned to death because no one testified effectively in his behalf.

The Gospel is simply the Good News of Jesus. It often is presented as some kind of ideology to which one may either subscribe or oppose, like a political party, system of government or sports team. Acceptance of the Gospel simply means the acceptance of a relationship with God that already exists. God is already our Father, as Jesus taught. God already loves us, as Jesus taught. Jesus has already done everything possible to get us to understand, through his life, death, and resurrection. What we call salvation is simply an acceptance of God’s will through a Christlike love of the Father.

By living this Gospel, by in fact “”being it,”” we testify to the truth of Jesus, the Word of God. The “”jury”” is the world, and through the Fall, humanity has put God on trial and condemned Him to death, so it might become God. Jesus came to us and his presence requires that the case be reopened, for we have been reminded of a higher Court. Indeed, Jesus appealed to this Court, and his resurrection is the judgement in his favor. The court of the world does not accept this and awaits a time when a final decision will be rendered. In the meantime, we are called to sway this worldly jury by our testimony. But will they believe us?

What, then, constitutes a good witness? St. Francis of Assisi said, “”Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.”” Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk in the mid-1900’s, said nothing is more revolting than “”pious talk.”” We are not called to be walking tracts but living words of God. The following points may help in this direction:

  1. Do your job well – If this seems like an odd way to start, perhaps we have separated our ordinary lives from God. If we are the Body of Christ, we are filled with every grace and blessing. If we are part of the Son of God, should we not be able to work hard and serve our customers, co-workers, and supervisors well? We are given the opportunity to use our gifts in some way through our jobs, volunteer work or parenting. If Christians cannot handle the small tasks of ordinary life, how can we be entrusted with eternal life?
  2. Avoid cliched phrases and living – Like any group, Christians have stock phrases and behaviors. These are not wrong in themselves, but as they become automatic they lose whatever meaning they had, especially for unbelievers. The Sign of the Cross, the “”fish”” signs on cars and shirts, and The Rapture can all become empty slogans and motions. They have no meaning for unbelievers. “”The Word of God is living and effective,”” not encased in plastic.
  3. Be loving РThis may seem a clich̩, but it is necessary to discuss it. Christian love is to the world as water in the desert. Rare and welcome. The world may not want the Gospel, but it wants Peace, which will only come through love. Love everyone, at least in terms of silently wishing everyone well. Rather than praying for the conversion of those around us, we should pray for their health and happiness. Sincere love must come before evangelization is possible. If we are gentle and loving, others may notice and want to be closer to us. They will soon notice the loving atmosphere where the Gospel is lived. Our love should result in action, and those closest to us must know the love of God through our service and kindness.
  4. Be respectful and show courtesy – Love is shown by our respect for others, especially respect for those whom the world expects us to despise. Because the world tries to see the Gospel as just another ideology, we are expected to hate those that do not live as we do. But Jesus died for all, with no exceptions, and so we must show every kindness to others, but without pronouncing a blessing on their acts. No insults should proceed from us, and even the lost arts of “”please”” and “”thank you”” must be applied often. This courtesy must extend to children, criminals, the homeless and workers that serve us. God plays no favorites.
    As an aside, I occasionally substitute at a high school. The students often express amazement that I say “”thank you”” when they quiet down at my request. This seems to indicate that teachers do not always extend this courtesy to students. This is worth some thought.
  5. Hospitality – this is another expression of love. It often appears in Scripture. When people come to our homes to sell us something, tell us about their churches, or make a delivery, do we receive them as we would receive Christ, or have we forgotten Matthew 25?
    Come and receive my blessing, for I was painting your house and you gave me cool water to drink, delivering packages and you welcomed me, old, and you gave me a place to sit down. (Cited very freely)
  6. Know the Gospel and practice it – Certainly all of these are included here, but this in turn covers much more. We must accept the whole Gospel before we can witness to its truth. If we cannot accept the Gospel in its entirety, we cannot effectively preach even a sliver of it. We may not be perfect, but we can at least desire to live according to God’s will and desire Him above all things. A sincere faith, although imperfect, practiced in a small and loving way can do much to promote the Gospel.
  7. Don’t be the big cheese in things – We don’t need to be the center of attention to be witnesses to the Gospel. Humility and modesty are Christian virtues (and indeed are viewed as virtues by most religions and philosophies). Don’t talk the most or the loudest. Living in a simple and modest fashion speaks louder than jewelry, fancy cars, or a mansion. We have no record of Jesus making a best-dressed list or having any significant possessions. As far as we know, he won no awards for his preaching or healing. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul writes that the Church in Corinth was not known for any sort of great accomplishments, wealth, or nobility. He says that in Christ, the weak shame the strong. When we are lowly, and yet reflect the glory of God in our lives, it is the same. The less we attempt to stand out in the ways of the world, the more God’s glory is revealed in an unexpected way.
  8. Defer, defer, defer – In Ephesians 5, St. Paul says: “”Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ.”” While the context was a specific one, this certainly applies in general as well. We want our way, but we must defer to others whenever possible, both out of reverence for and in imitation of Christ. We cannot defer in matters of faith and morals, or where giving in would be an offense against love, but this still leaves a very large number of opportunities for us.
  9. Answer questions simply, directly – Jesus went to the heart of each matter set before him. He often told stories or turned questions around so the questioner had to think. Answers should be free of references the hearer will not understand. Jesus often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures because his listeners were somewhat familiar with them, but we may have to draw from other sources when speaking to those unfamiliar with the Bible or Church teaching. Many modern movies, even bad ones, can be used to illustrate a point if they are already familiar to the listener. Analogies with driving, school, work, or family often work well, but beware: the listener may find the place where the analogy breaks down and take the point wrong. Of course, if the listener accepts the authority of the Church or at least accepts the Bible as the inspired word of God, by all means use the Scriptures, Catechism, quotes and stories from the Saints and other good books.
  10. Avoid all illusion and pretense – Sometimes, it seems that unbelievers have better discernment than the devout. If we think we are truly single-hearted and pious, we must go shed our illusions first (“”go, sell what you have �””) and then present our real selves as witnesses. A phony witness is rejected in the same way that hearsay evidence is rejected in court: it may not be introduced as evidence. If we are plagued with doubt, we must share that or be silent. An acknowledgement of our failings and doubts coupled with a genuine attempt to seek God can be a powerful witness. We really have little else to give. If this bothers us, we have far too much pride to be an effective witness, and may even risk becoming reformers, and there is no more dangerous office than this.
  11. Be joyful and happy – Our hope is in the Lord. He has saved us and provides for all our needs. We may be poor, ignorant, and sinful, but the Father loves us as His children. St. Thomas Aquinas said we have an obligation to be happy. Most worries stem from a lack of trust in God, which is a poor witness. Trust in God is often taken to mean a belief that things will work out as we had planned or in some way we will like. Jesus told St. Peter: “”� someone � will take you where you do not want to go.”” We have no assurances that our car will start in the morning, that we will not get cancer or lose our job. Our lives are fragile and may be turned upside-down by a single phone call or conversation. Trust in God simply means assurance that the Father loves us, Jesus has called us, and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to “”run the race.”” Living this way shows others that Christianity is not “”magic,”” and also teaches them that our Faith is not a way to earthly happiness, but to God.
  12. Be content not to do it all – We have only our little part to do. There are a few, rare people whose job it is to reach millions of people. Others have been set aside to help a few make great spiritual progress. Most of us are called to the small tasks.
    For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place God wants for us and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforseeable results. Now is the hour of the silent offering: therefore the hour of hope: God alone. Faceless, unknown, unfelt, yet undeniable: God. (Fr. Monchanin)

Prayer is the way to all of this. It is also another subject.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger/Wrath

The Emotion of the Falsely Righteous

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

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

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

Is Anger Always A Sin?

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

Anger as a Decision

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

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

Anger Belongs to the Righteous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Continued Reading

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2302, also 2262, 2286

Another site’s collection on anger

“”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis

“”The Little Flowers of St. Francis””