Last night was the final session of our 7 Deadly Sins – 7 Lively Virtues Adult Faith Formation class at Church. It has been a great seven weeks and I’m going to miss the probing discussions with the group. Because of scheduling constraints, we combined the last two topics namely Gluttony/Fasting and Lust/Chastity into one night. In this post I’ll give a very quick summary of these two important topics. Finally, I’ll provide a summary table to help remember the 7 Sins, the 7 Virtues and how to apply the lessons learned to our daily lives.
The Simple Catholic Snapshots:
- Gluttony is the Immoderate Pleasure in Food or Drink
- Gluttony is a Deadly Sin Since it Replaces the Desire for God with the Desire for Physical Pleasure
- The Antidote to Gluttony is Fasting: Take Control of Your Physical Desires
- Lust is Treating Another Person not as an End, but Rather as a Means to Personal Pleasure
- Lust is a Sin Because It Is Love of Self Instead of Total Self-Giving Love as God Loves
- The Antidote to Lust is Chastity
- Chastity is a Virtue of Character, it is NOT a Behavior
- The Critical Take-Away is the Last Column – What Should I Do?
The Simple Catholic Truth:
We live in a culture of excess. We are constantly bombarded with messages that equate material items with happiness. Drive that car, have that house or eat this meal and the marketers promise that you’ll be happy. The fancy car and house are sometimes appealing due to the sin of pride – you know – ‘I deserve it’ or the old push to ‘keep up with the Jones’.
But Gluttony is a little different. Gluttony initially involves a more primal need, that need to eat in order to survive. But lets face it, we often eat so much more than we need to survive and be healthy, and we eat for the wrong reasons. We eat to be comforted. Food and drink in and of themselves are not bad because to refuse sustenance would be to disrespect the divine gift of our created bodies. However, when our food becomes a replacement for what we really need in life, namely God, then that behavior is sinful and deadly.
Our fallen bodies have desires that often overwhelm the intellect to the point of us leading us to make bad choices. As part of our spiritual growth to heaven, we must reclaim the control over these desires and reestablish the harmony between the body, the soul and God. The antidote to these disordered desires is to practice control of our basic physical bodies. As it pertains to food and Gluttony, the antidote is fasting. The willful temporary suspension of food intake has been a powerful spiritual exercise for thousands of year. Consider the antidote of fasting as a tool to help recenter your life on God.
[You might want to look at my post entitled Calling all Mackerel Snappers for a further discussion of the Church’s teaching on fasting.]
Wow, if you thought our society is driven by caloric excess, then how would you describe the thermonuclear war being waged on the Virtue of Chastity? Look around and you’ll see that the sexual bombardment is relentless. Movies of course, but TV shows, advertisements and internet porn are screaming that sexual conquests are acceptable, encouraged and normal. This distortion of human sexuality describes the Deadly Sin of Lust. But Lust is not simply measured by excessive amounts, it involves a lost understanding of what it is to be man and woman. Lost to the lustful is the fact that our sexual makeup is intended to reflect our creation in the image of God.
In exploring the difference between sex, love and lust, C.S Lewis once said: ‘sex….is a sensory pleasure…, an event occurring within one’s own body. [It is unfortunate that we say that a man] “wants a woman.” Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).
-C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The brilliance of these words can not be overstated. Lewis here properly describes sex as a strictly sensory pleasure activity, the goal of which is personal satisfaction. To amplify the point, he describes a lustful man’s partner as a ‘piece of apparatus’. In modern American vernacular, such a woman would be described as simply a piece of meat much like a butcher would sell for profit. An equally disgusting metaphor to be sure but you get the point. Lust results when people are used as objects, specifically for personal sexual pleasure.
In the above example, sex is lustful because it reduces a partner to an object. In other words, the sexual act is simply one of taking.
We are physical beings created with magnificent bodies with natural physical urges that are good. But we were also created in His image to love and our bodies are meant to be instruments of divine love. This proper divine love, contrary Lewis’ example above, is rooted in the act of giving. Consider St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of love: ‘To will the good of the other for the sake of the other.’ Here, Thomas captures the meaning of divine love to be one of sacrificial giving. Love is a choice when one person dies of self for the sake of the other.
The Bible reveals the role of our sexuality in the description of creation itself. In Gn 1:27 we were created ‘in His image, male and female.’ And in Gn 2:24 we are to cling to each other, male and female, and ‘become one flesh.’ If two become one flesh, then each of the original two have died as individuals. Each self is gone and that which remains in that intimate loving embrace is a new creation. For those moments, the marital embrace is a mirror of the perfect giving love that God has for his children. As in the Genesis creation, this love creates new life.
With that in mind we return to Deadly Sin of Lust. Lust is the love of self acted out in a sexual way. But true love, including using our bodies in the sexual act as God intended, is an act of complete giving.
If you asked members of modern society the definition of Chastity, you would inevitably get answers along the lines of ‘celibacy’ or ‘abstinence’, probably including a few snide ‘perverted’ or ‘sick’ adjectives as well. This is understandable because most people equate sex to a right, an activity of personal pleasure that should not be inhibited. But it’s critical that we make a point here:
Chastity is NOT a behavior, Chastity is a Virtue.
A virtue is not something we do, a virtue is something that we are. Thru the grace of God the Holy Spirit places into our soul gifts that, properly accepted and nurtured, bear fruits that cause us to imitate Christ. Some of these fruits include celibacy in the single vocation and fidelity in the married vocation. In any case the Virtue of Chastity is the proper integration of sexuality into the person. This person then, created in the image of God and living in a manner consistent with their loving nature, glorifies the Creator. And that should be a goal of everything we do, in or out of the bedroom.
On the first night of class, I made a point that whatever factual information we might learn about Sins and Virtues it would be completely wasted if it didn’t translate to an enriched relationship with God. This was particularly important as we traveled thru the Lenten season towards Easter. Therefore, I put together a course summary table that contains these two important elements.
First you will see that the table contains 6 columns of factual information including the list of all 7 Sins, Virtues, definitions and a column of general practical advice to help cultivate that particular virtue. These columns contain the ‘information’ that I referred to in the opening statement.
However, the last column is included to address the most important take-away from the class. What should each of us specifically do using this table of facts to help our spiritual journey? The last column is deliberately left blank, calling each of us to reflect on the 7 Sins and 7 Virtues. In that last column, jot down some notes on how you will try to avoid the former and encourage the fruition of the latter.
Our lives are filled with countless situations where we are called to make decisions. Every decision causes some change either towards God or away from Him. Lets think of our lives in this way – each day filled with hundreds of little opportunities to take a hundreds of little steps. For most of us, leaps and bounds are rare, but even a long journey can made by a determined toddler. I pray this table helps to guide your steps.
God bless you and have a most Glorious Easter.