The Surrender of Virtue
Yesterday we reflected upon the Seven Deadly Sins, while praying the Scourging of Our Lord.
Today let's think a bit about the virtues that oppose these sins. Note that each virtue entails an odd kind of surrender.
I am not consulting St. Thomas Aquinas here, who thinks much more deeply about such things. I am taking a more casual approach and simply saying things that occur to me, things I've noticed as the life-long sinner that I am. For if we ponder just a bit about the nature of each sin, we can more readily understand the virtues that oppose them.
- Lust, for example, begins by following the good of sexual desire, but indulging in this good inordinately or outside of the strict bounds that God, in the very nature of reality, has set for it. And what happens to those who are lustful? Ultimately they use people; they simply turn others into objects of use - and not only for the satisfying of their flesh; for there is in Lust a deep desire for power or control, and that's a spiritual and not merely a carnal thing. What, then, would oppose this sin? The chart above says Chastity, but Chastity is merely an expression of love, and love consists of seeing the other not as an object for our own selfish use, but as one for whom we will the best, and sacrifice for his or her best. LOVE, therefore, counters LUST.
- And, yes, Gluttony is countered by Moderation (or occasional Abstinence as in the chart above), but my experience has been that the root of Gluttony is a childish fear. The people I know who eat too much are like actors - desperate for a kind of attention or affection, and terrified that somehow God will not provide, that their own self-worth will not avail, that life is so precarious and uncertain that we must gorge ourselves when we can - even if that means at every meal. If Mommy takes away the breast, or if Dad simply abandons us - well, eat your heart out and you'll soon forget about that. What is the antidote to such a sin? MATURITY counters GLUTTONY, a maturity that includes Temperance, Moderation, Abstinence - things only adults are capable of.
- And of course Liberality counters Greed - but what is at the root of Greed if not the basic assumption that God will not provide, that we must hoard and hoard and only by getting everything will we ever avoid the cold abyss of poverty or death (in this sense, Gluttony is a species of Greed)? TRUST opposes GREED, a deep and abiding Trust in the Providence of God. If you Trust that He will provide, you will not be tempted to put your faith in mere things.
- And certainly, as in the chart above, Diligence stands against Sloth - but why are the Slothful not Diligent? Because they don't care. Impetus, Incentive, Longing, Desire - these are the things that get us off our butts, even our spiritual butts. A little HUNGER does wonders for SLOTH, for a little hunger brings a great Incentive - whether we're hungering for material things or spiritual things.
- As for Wrath - wrath is simply anger indulged in and uncontrolled. And Anger is a good thing. It is the emotional response to injustice. But Wrath comes in when we refuse to endure any injustice - when we want everything to go our way. Thus the antidote to WRATH is SELF-SACRIFICE, knowing that what angers us is wrong, but that we will never be free from suffering wrong in this life - and that's a good thing; otherwise we'd be unbearable.
- Envy is the assumption that another is given something that we are deprived of. This most miserable of sins (for unlike the others it does not give the sinner even temporary enjoyment) can only be undone by Thanksgiving - being grateful for the good that we have, not sour over the good that we don't. There is a deep mystery in the distribution of God's gifts, and He knows better than we do what we most need. GRATITUDE is the opposite of ENVY.
- And the odd surrender in these virtues are all wrapped around the self-giving of love, and all an expression of the root virtue, which opposes the root sin. HUMILITY, that strange grace that seems to consist of nothing that we bring to the table, and which is a tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit, destroys PRIDE, which "goeth before a fall" - Pride which lays the groundwork for everything else. And Humility is simply seeing ourselves in right relation to God and others.
Let us pray about how we can work with God's grace to cultivate a life of virtue that opposes our inborn devotion to sin.
And let us pray ...
To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.