Seven Deadly Sins for Parents
As parents, we know that problems
which are harder to see, like a young cancer, are easier to cure, while problems
plain to the eye, like a five pound tumor, are hard to cure. And we know the same
is true spiritually. This is why the Church's tradition concerning the Seven Deadly
Sins is so useful.
The Seven Deadly Sins are divided into the three "warm-hearted"
|and the four "cold-hearted"
sins of: || |
The Warm-Hearted Sins
loves the high of anger. We see it in spouses who love to get mad at each other,
who look for reasons to fight, who get a sad little thrill from blowing their
top when the husband is late for dinner or the wife loses the checkbook. Wrath
is a choice, not a mere reaction of anger. It is there before somebody steps on
the wrathful person toes, and the Wrath which comes forth has the quality of indulgence,
not reaction. Wrath, in a curious way, is almost glad at the hurt toe since it
gives the wrathful person a chance to "vent".
is a choice, not a mere reaction. Its essence is not sexuality (which God
made), but the choice to treat human beings like things. It is not the animal
response to our psychosexual hardwiring, but the will to treat other people as
"stimuli" at the service of our demand to be thrilled. This is why the
Church warns that we can make our own spouses the object of lust, tuning our love
for our wife according to her looks today or treating our husband like an accessory
in a fantasy which has almost nothing to do with him as a person. We can also
make ourselves into the object of our spouse's lust, rather than a lover and partner
in Christ, by encouraging our spouse to relate to us primarily in terms of our
looks or sexual prowess while neglecting the many other aspects of our relationship
which need as much, if not more, attention.
Gluttony also treats
things like persons. Commonly, Gluttony is associated with excess in food and
drink, and there is real wisdom in that association, particularly when we contemplate
the sad soul who eats and boozes "for comfort" and seeks love from that
last bit of sirloin. But, as C.S. Lewis' Uncle Screwtape points out, a persnickety
glutton who goes through life complaining "All I want is the teensy-weeniest
piece of really crisp toast!" is just as much a slave to gluttony as the
excessive consumer, since he also has placed everything at the mercy of his demand
for a sensory experience. This is also true of the TV Hog who will never sacrifice
Monday Night Football for a night with the family or the soap opera addict who
won't stop channel surfing to talk with a child about her day at school.
Here it is worth noting something. Our culture trains us to think
of sin primarily as these first three sins of Wrath, Lust and Gluttony. We are
far more able to recognize as "dysfunctional" (the modern euphemism
for "sinful") a family of bickering fat drunken slobs whose teenager
is pregnant (again) than a family of upstanding stock brokers who are "self-made
people" with 2.3 Perfect Children. We would much rather have our kids associate
with the family of the President of Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe than with the Simpsons.
But if the President uses his big bucks to support the work of "charitable"
organizations like Planned Parenthood in order to keep down the numbers of Third
World peoples by abortion; if his wife chairs a corporation that markets "cop
killer" rap music to minority kids; if they raise their children to be "justifiably"
aloof from the hoi polloi; and if their lives appear to be a constant whirl of
parties, expensive junkets and financial wheeling and dealing, do we feel ourselves
menaced by the threat of Avarice, Sloth and Pride? Or do we ourselves take the
first step toward these cold-hearted (and respectable) sins by indulging its evil
The Cold-Hearted Sins
Avarice is the sin which
places Gain in the Throne made for the Love of God and neighbor. Its practitioners
call it Productivity and Industriousness. Likewise, Envy is the smoldering
resentment which places Lack (whether it be of money, talent, looks, "advantages"
or popularity) in that same Throne and calls itself Fairness. The two sins aggravate
each other. Married couples who are prey to Envy and Avarice are often faced with
workaholism (Us Smiths gotta keep ahead of the Joneses!), a frenzy to acquire
(Us Joneses gotta catch up with the Smiths!) and a certain intramural competition
about how money is allotted within the family ("Honey, why do you get this
much money allowed for your clothing budget, but I only get that much?").
Envy is also prone to strike in families with step-children, where the charge
is often leveled that a parent is treating his or her natural child preferentially
over the child of the spouse. It can even be felt at times between "stay
at home" spouses jealous of their partner's chance to get out of the house
and go to work and working spouses jealous of their partner's chance to duck the
Surprisingly, both sins (even the "busy" one of Avarice)
are engendered by a spiritual weariness, not with the pain of the world, but with
the Hope of Heaven. Such weariness is Sloth. And it is because it no longer
musters the energy to hope for heavenly things that matter that Sloth preoccupies
itself with earthly things that do not. It is what drives spouses to zone out
in front of the tube night after night or to slump into an endless blue funk or
to attend a mindless whirl of parties and committee meetings, rather than devote
a minute's thought or prayer to why life feels so empty or how we should apologize
to our spouse for what we said last night. Sloth is a laziness of spirit, not
necessarily of body.
The Deadliest Sin of All
But the fountainhead
of all sin is Pride, which turns from the help of God and man, usually
under the names of Self-Esteem, Independence or Maturity. In marriage, it often
asserts itself at the moment we notice our spouse is really different from us.
We can fancy "different" equals "inferior" and regard ourselves
as "superior". We can make such a big deal of "otherness"
from our spouse that it can lead to marital devastation (as witness the all-encompassing
"irreconcilable differences" heading under which many divorces are justified).
Pride is essentially competitive. There is no such thing as mere "difference"
to the soul infected with Pride. Every difference means somebody must win and
somebody must lose. The one and only cure for this soul sickness (and all the
other sins) is frank acknowledgement of our complete dependence on God in prayer
and confession, a quick humility that is the first to say "I was wrong"
to one's spouse, a watchful eye on our choices every day, and continual practice
of the Seven Virtues by the grace of God.
Copyright 2001 - Mark