Zeal

Ardent Desire for God


“”Zeal for your house consumes me”” – Psalm 69:9, John 2:16-17


“”It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. “” – Proverbs 19:2


Zeal and Zealots


Zeal, according to the dictionary is an ardent interest or desire. It doesn’t say what the object of the desire is. But the virtue of Zeal only has God as the object. Anything else is a waste, or even dangerous, because we can make gods of lesser things, and this nearly always ends in disaster. This is the case for zealots: they have created some idea and then pursue this shadow of themselves fanatically. Spiritually, the worst thing for a human being is to create a “”God-image”” in their head and then pursue it madly like a dog chasing its tail. It is an excuse for the worst crimes and atrocities, with an apparently clear conscience. Once a false God has been created in the mind, the human vices are amplified and rationalized, with the worst possible results: evil is done but God is blamed.


Some of the modern fear of Zeal comes from a rational distrust based on observation. We need very little persuading to believe the zealot is really pursuing God, because it provides such a convenient excuse for our laziness.


The Lord’s Name in Vain


The Commandment says not to take the Lord’s Name in vain, and we usually think of swearing, but it also applies here. When we take our own ideas, rooted in our vices, and declare them to be the will of God, we violate the Commandment. It is truly blasphemous to say, “”God wants me to be rich.”” It may be the will of God, but it is a safer assumption, given such an idea, to think it is we who will it, not God. In general, our desires for worldly success originate in us, not in God. To anoint our desires is to invest them with the dignity and authority of God. A healthy distrust of oneself is important in spiritual matters: if we stand to gain in a material way, we should doubt whether a course is truly the will of God.


True Zeal


True Zeal is informed. As the proverb says, knowledge is crucial to Zeal. Our visions and intuitions can lie, and we can filter out any knowledge that conflicts with our desires, but knowing God through prayer, Scripture, good counsel and fellowship is the best defense we have against ourselves. Obtaining knowledge is so easy in our modern world, easier than ever before, but avoiding it is just as easy. There are plenty of preachers, motivational speakers and self-help books to keep us delusional, and so few honest friends willing to risk a friendship for our sake. Many excellent and ancient books are available on the Internet, but few take the time to study them.


To prevent self-deception and misdirected zeal, there is no better corrective than the Gospels. Given the number of zealots who claim a Gospel basis for their actions, this may seem surprising, but there is a common thread to them all: they claim an ability (or right) to interpret the Bible in their own way.


For example, there are people who believe the pursuit of wealth is a divine command, but a brief reading of the Gospel should show otherwise: Jesus was poor, he said so. And nowhere in the New Testament are we counseled to chase after wealth, in fact, we are told the opposite. We are never told to use violence, but the Ku Klux Klan (and others) have claimed to be “”Bible-believing”” Christians while killing and terrorizing so many. Clearly, Jesus taught peace, so how can people kill in his name? Other examples include using Bible verses to justify cheating, cruelty, lies, bad marriages, divorce and adultery. The Gospel speaks against each one of these, clearly and without any room for doubt.


A good starting point for informed Zeal is to read the Gospels. Then read them again. Repeat until they are nearly memorized. “”What Would Jesus Do?”” is not a good guide unless we know Jesus well through the Gospels.


Some will say, “”But I know Jesus without reading the Gospels. He speaks to my heart. A priest told me this is better than the Gospels.”” There is no answer for such a person but the Judgement. Anyone who seriously thinks they have this kind of arrangement is seriously disturbed, possibly to the point of being mentally ill. And any priest or other spiritual leader who promotes this half-baked thinking is not fit for spiritual guidance. Jesus went to great pains (literally) to establish the Church in a certain way, and he never promised “”personal revelations”” that lead people away from what he did in his ministry. Claiming visions is a way of avoiding correction by a kind of spiritual intimidation. We are expected to accept even the most stupid or blatantly self-serving pronouncements because the person claims a vision, and forget St. Paul’s admonition, “”Test every spirit.””


Others will say, “”But some visions are true!”” Yes, you are right, but what are the marks of the true visions? Visionaries never really benefit much from their visions. They are thought insane, examined, doubted, called possessed, impoverished, and often die young. Their fame is seldom great until after death. Miracles nearly always accompany true visions, and conversions always do. True visions never tell us what we want to hear, in fact they usually destroy the earthly life of the visionary and deny them the simple comforts we take for granted, like a bit of peace and quiet, family life and anonymity. But this is digression.


True Zeal has God for its object, not a “”God-image””. Because we cannot know God completely in this life, there is a certain caution necessay in Zeal, and not a few “”safeties””. Zeal should drive us to take the obviously right paths with great vigor: patience, gentleness, the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, prayer, self discipline, sacrifice and above all, selfless love. Strangely, doubt and uncertainty can help purify and direct Zeal, by focusing on the one thing we know for sure: “”God is love””.


For Continued Reading


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


“”Mere Christianity,”” by C.S. Lewis (also, “”The Screwtape Letters””)


“”The Little Flowers of St. Francis”” (Franciscans are often reminded to use time well)

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

Overview

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
Pride
(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.
Avarice/Greed
(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.
Envy
(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.
Wrath/Anger
(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.
Lust
(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.
Gluttony
(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.
Sloth
(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.

New

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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):

Poll

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%

 

Origins

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

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

Dante

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.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/208404.htm

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–house.com), 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.

Vice

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>

Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales –
http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/gchaucer/bl-gchau-can-genpro.htm

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:

Lust

Pride

Greed

Envy (NV)

Anger

Sloth

Gluttony

Dossie Lustig

Pamela Prideaux

Gregory Reed

Nam-Young Voung

Dan Gerard

Chistholm

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

http://www.kb.nl/kb/manuscripts/highlights/11M_uk.html

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 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.

Higher Ground

Spiritual Direction  Poems and Prayers The Chapel

These pages were designed for committed Christians in search of something more. Perhaps you have followed Christ for many years but feel something is still missing. Do you ever feel like you are close to something wonderful but can’t quite grasp it? Have you served Jesus Christ with zeal but found that some aspects of your life are less than you expected?

 

 

 

  

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

The Reservoir of All Sin

“”The Devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.”” – St. Thomas More, 16th Century

“”God is stern in dealing with the arrogant, but to the humble He shows kindness.”” – Proverbs 3:34

“”Hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to the love of God …”” – The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2094

Overweening pride, arrogance, haughtiness: these have been the stuff of tragedy. Vanity, fussiness, delicacy: the stuff of comedy. These are all forms of self-delusion, and paper-thin masks over rotting features. Pride and vanity refuse the truth about who we are and substitute illusions for reality. While vanity is mostly concerned with appearance, pride is based in a real desire to be God, at least in one’s own circle.

The first requirement of pride is spiritual blindness. Any glimpse of God reveals our frailty and sinfulness, just as a well-lit bathroom mirror shows the flaws in our complexion. Like Oedipus, we are driven to gouge out our eyes at the sight of our wretchedness and wander away from our heavenly home, with no purpose or direction. Unlike Oedipus, we build up myriad illusions about who we are and what we are about. We can busy ourselves with career, family and even church work, thinking we are being driven by a strong work ethic, moral values or the fire of the Holy Spirit. In reality, we may be running away from God by running away from ourselves. Nearly everyone else can see that we are putting on a show, but not us. Our coworkers may hate us (they are just jealous), our children may self-destruct or leave us (they are ungrateful), and we may never truly pray but merely stand in the presence of a god we have created, but we still refuse to see.

A second requirement of pride, indeed a symptom, is that each challenge to our pride drives us harder to improve our illusion of productivity, sanctity or compassion. It has been said that the definition of a zealot is “”one who has lost sight of his goal, and so redoubles his efforts.”” We might say the zealot works twice as hard to keep up appearances.

When we hear sermons about pride, or read this text, we may be tempted to think of all the people we know who really need to read it. We need to read it. Pride is about us, and we would love to retain our illusions by pointing to others, saying: “”But they are very proud. I really don’t think I’m that great, but they do.””

The best pride detector is this: how much are we bothered by the pride of others? And if we feel attacked, is our response: “”other people are worse.””

A strong indicator of pride is competitiveness. There is nothing wrong with playing to win, provided the joy is in the playing. If our happiness depends on defeating others or knowing our child is the star of the team, we are building a world of illusion.

At death, all illusions are stripped away. God’s judgment will not take into account our bank balance, how much we own, how smart our children are or how much self-esteem we have. All that will matter is whether He recognizes us (Matthew 25:12).

There are three ways to destroy Pride, and they must all be taken together:

1) Be grateful to anyone and everyone. Treat even the things people are expected to do as great gifts. Be grateful for your food, your change at Burger King, rain, life itself. Thank everyone.

2) Beg forgiveness of God for the sin of Pride. Go before Him in prayer every day or every few hours and implore His mercy. The more this offends you, the more Pride you have.

3) Ask God for a spirit of Humility and Gratitude. Read Philippians 2:3-11 and imitate it. Understand that without God’s Grace, we will never cast away our illusions. Ask God to break your pride and vanity using whatever it takes: illness, loss of friends, loss of family, public humiliation. This is unbelievably difficult to request, and every fiber of our being fights it. We protest it is not fair, or “”God doesn’t work that way.”” My friend, what good is health, friends, family, a good reputation, if you have no real love for God, but only a hollow illusion? In the end, all but true love for God is lost, so count all else but God as loss now.

For continued reading, the following are a few good books:


The Screwtape Letters

Nuclear Fusion and Community Building

How Can I Liven Up My Parish?



Physics can be a great help in ministry. For example, consider the requirements for a sustained fusion reaction; one that will produce more than enough energy to keep it going.

 


Physics


Fusion is the combining of two or more atomic nuclei into a single nucleus (atom). The following three things are required:


1) Proximity: There must be some nuclei, very close together.
2) Time: They must be this way for some time.
3) Energy: Lots of heat is required.


If all three conditions are met, you will get fusion.


Ministry


In the Church, it is the same. We want a lively Church, one that is an exciting presence in the world, just as Jesus was an exciting presence everywhere he went. The Gospel says crowds accompanied him everywhere he went. This requires the same three things as fusion:


Proximity – Every Sunday, large numbers of people are jammed into churches. There is great potential in this, but there is also the danger of an illusion that this means the Church is healthy. Numbers, in themselves, mean nothing but opportunity. Anything that brings people together has potential.


Time – Life is so frenzied now that we seldom take the time to enjoy each other. The lie of “”quality time”” gives the illusion that good time can be scheduled: it can’t. It takes lots of time, lots of opportunities, for wonderful things to happen. Some of the best family time can be while waiting in line, given the right attitude. More good has probably been done on church patios after Mass than in homilies, not because the homilies weren’t good, but because there were so many conversations. Time spent in preparation for parish festivals, open houses, or special rites is always an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work.


Energy – Every parish has a few people that love God intensely. This fiery zeal comes from the Holy Spirit and can spread throughout a parish provided enough people get together often enough and for long enough. It is contagious because people love to be around lively people, and lovers of God may be quiet, but they aren’t dull. God provides the energy for this “”reaction,”” and all we have to do is get out of the way. At the beginning, the priest, bishop or other minister may have to be the primary channel for this energy, but once the blaze gets going, they just have to tend it and create more opportunities (see Proximity and Time, above).


A Special Note for Priests


It seems to be the fashion to avoid much contact with people (beyond the superficial handshakes and coffee). Perhaps there is a fear of temptation involved in this, and indeed, I’ve known several priests that got close to people and ended up in scandal. I can only say that all lay people who evangelize or become involved with others run the same risk. A married man has a vow of chastity within marriage, but can’t hide from an opportunity to share the Gospel with a woman willing to listen. Those who work with the homeless risk becoming lost in an ideology and forgetting the rest of the Gospel (Mother Teresa wrote about this; it is very common). We all take risks.


Burnout is a serious problem. It occurs when a priest or other laborer’s prayer life is less than is required for the work attempted. Mother Teresa and St. Thomas Aquinas remind us that we are all called to be contemplatives, and any “”excess”” from our prayer life spills out into action. We do not pray to support our lives; our lives should pour forth from the overflowing Grace of God being poured into us. It is a shocking fact that so many priests do no spiritual reading (or similar activities) at all.



Last updated December 7, 1999

Prayer Against the Seven Deadly Sins

“”If I find Him, I will find myself.””


Thomas Merton, “”New Seeds of Contemplation,”” 1961


Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk, 20th Century


The following prayer is from his book, “”New Seeds of Contemplation.”” It is widely available. For Merton, the word illusion could be substituted freely for sin. This makes sense in many ways: we often lament our past sins and say, “”How could I have not seen how horrible this was?”” or “”What was I thinking of?”” Here is a prayer from his book:


Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving You glory.


Therefore, keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice [greed] and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Staunch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hungers that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.


Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.


But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.


Thomas Merton, 1961, Gethsemani. Imprimatur Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York

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.””

Humility

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

Obedience

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.

Charity

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?