Trampling Down the Seven Deadlies

I’ve got this exciting new theory I want to try out on you. I’ve just thought of it myself, and maybe it’s old hat and been around forever, but I’m only a convert, so if it is the classical spiritual teaching of some great monastic teacher or spiritual director and I’ve never heard of it, then it’s my bad.

This is it: There are the seven deadly sins, and we call them the ‘Capital Sins’ because they are like the top of the list and all the other sins are different versions or variations of the seven deadly. To refresh you memory they are: Gluttony, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Sloth, Pride and Greed. Well, there are also seven corporal acts of mercy. Which are:  1. Feed the hungry  2. Give drink to the thirsty  3. Clothe the naked 4. Shelter the homeless 5. Visit the sick 6. Visit those in prison 7. Bury the dead.

I’m thinking that the usual course to overcome the seven deadly is self discipline, control, prayer, confession and the hard work of overcoming the sin. Problem is, too often all this does is end up making us rather repressed or up tight or legalistic or harsh on ourselves and judgmental–and all the other pitfalls of the spiritual life.

What if, however, we were to put all that self discipline stuff on one side and simply get involved more heartily in the corporal works of mercy? See, I reckon that the seven corporal works of mercy actually counter-act the seven deadlies.

It works like this: [Read More]

Pause for Prayer
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  • Julie C.

    Giving you a big thumbs up on this one, Father!

  • David G.

    Why focus only on the corporal works? Could the spiritual works not be of any help?

  • Brother Paul

    This isn’t a theory I’ve come across before, although as you say it may well be already there in the treasury of the Church’s wisdom. But it does remind me of one of my own theories, which is that a good way to combat any particular vice is to foster its opposite virtue. E.g. if you have a tendency to speak badly of others, it isn’t enough just to try and stop saying such things – try to get into the habit of saying positive things about others instead.

  • jp

    Great post, Father! One of the priests at my parish often says that it’s not enough to merely avoid sin; we have to do the good as well. Otherwise, we add sins of omission (in failing to act charitably and virtuously) to our sins of commission. Your post adds some additional context and texture to his good advice. Thank you!

  • http://none the boy

    I’m happy you stumbled upon this Father but it is really nothing new. We overcome our vices by practicing the opposing virtue.

  • wineinthewater

    This is what I was taught in catechism, that there was a direct relationship between the cardinal virtues and the capital sins.
    It also, I think, points to a good approach to virtue. Suppressing vice is a difficult way to achieve virtue. It leave a void in your life and we don’t say “idle hands are the devil’s plaything” for nothing. We are far more likely to fill the voids in our lives with vices than virtues. I think that a much better approach is to fill our lives with virtue, leaving no room for the vices. Stop doing bad things by taking up all your time doing good things. I think your 1-1 connection between vices and virtues can help really fill in the nooks and crannies. Have a particular vice that just keeps popping up, then don’t just introduce any virtue into your life, but that vice’s opposite virtue.

  • Lawoski

    Fr. Robert Barron has a roughly two-hour video describing a similar method for countering the seven deadly sins. He contrasts the seven deadly sins with seven lively virtues. He has a shorter introduction video that is available on YouTube here:

  • Victor

    In the spring of 2006, a small group of students and teachers from Saint Xavier High School began an ambitious program that would soon touch the hearts and minds of people around the country. After hearing about a burial service for the poor called the Saint Joseph of Arimathea Society, started at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, they felt called to initiate this ministry in Louisville. The society’s role is to act as Pall Bearers for the poor and to provide a Christian burial service for the deceased who do not have the funds to be buried at a private cemetery, many of which have no one at end of their life to pray for them or to carry them to their final resting place.

    how about this

  • Gerald Reiner

    An eighth deadly sin has been identified, abuse of the environment. The pope has written about this evil.

  • AndrewWS

    I couldn’t agree more. Conversion is a 180-degree thing.

  • AndrewWS

    ETA: that’s my main vice that you’re talking about.

  • James the lesser

    I seem to recall a story about an expelled demon who found his former stomping grounds empty and returned to refill it with a few friends. Empty is dangerous.

  • Domjp

    Great article Father. Thanks. I once did a confession with a Franciscan where we discussed my long, boring, horrible, long battle with gluttony. I came to realise it was no good just making endless grand resolutions to stop over indulging in food… And then failing…. And going back into that long, long depressing battle to self deny. Instead we decided to turn a vice into virtue. One of my major weaknesses with food was going out every evening, alone, to buy the nicest, tastiest fast food I could find, whether I was hungry or not, just for pleasure and personal indulgence. It was the feast of St John the Baptist so we decided in this confession that for one year I would give up this habit and replace it with the virtue of feeding the hungry: every time I wanted fast food I had to share the meal with a poor or homeless person or persons. So, some evenings this was not possible so I went without fast food for love of God and neighbour. Most evenings it was possible and I got into the great habit of buying food for the poor and spending quality time eating meals with Jesus in the distressing disguise of the alcoholic/drug addict/homeless/poor man who lives in a tiny one room flat and never has a nice tasty meal. Heck sometimes I was so craving fried chicken it drove me out to search the highways and byways for a hungry soul to share the food and the Gospel with! I can now say that by the grace of God this virtue grew and stuck with me and Jesus has gently led me to the place where I can find a hungry companion and enjoy seeing him or her eat whilst I fast because it is a day of penance or I only have enough cash for one to eat. How great thou art! I am not a special guy, it is just growth in virtue from confession, regular reception of the most holy Eucharist and putting virtue into practice. By the way some days I do it partly because I just fancy a bit of nice food, but in our weakness His strength is made perfect, and even on those days I have wonderful encounters eating with the Crucified one. Oh praise the Lord oh my soul, all that is within me praise His Holy Name! The whole experience has been life changing for me. I have made so many deep bonds with dear beloved poor friends of Jesus and one day I hope these sweet masters of mine shall plead my case with Jesus at my Judgement and say ‘Lord this is the sad and weak glutton who fed you and I when we were so hungry and sick of the cheapest bland food we could find, clothed us when we were naked with his own coat that night he was craving a burger and found us on the street, gave us a can of coke when we had spent our own money on cider, counselled us in our misery over a pizza, warmed us with coffee and donuts in the bleak mid winter, helped us find a place to live of our own after finding us by the river to share some fries with us. Pardon his sins oh Lord in your mercy.’ My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exhalts in God my saviour!

  • Mary

    suppressing vice and practicing virtue can make one a Pharisee, when one’s focus is on one’s own spiritual bank account. But actually doing good to others in deed is humility and mercy and can help us grow in charity, which conquers all vices.
    this is a good post, Father.

  • Larry Peterson

    Hey Father Dwight–you nailed it -well done.

  • Doragoon

    I’d be careful and re-read Chesterton’s comments on “wild and wasted virtues.” You can’t pick and choose. You can’t balance out an evil with overwhelming amounts of good. The virtues must compliment each other. Charity without prudence is dangerous. “…virtues do more terrible damage.”

  • Ted Seeber

    Fr. McGivney taught this, it is why Charity is the first Cardinal Virtue of the Knights of Columbus.

  • Matt Heffron

    Maybe a similar parallel could be proposed between the spiritual works of mercy and the seven virtues (theological and cardinal virtues), so the corporal works counteract the vices and the spiritual works build the virtues. I propose:
    Admonish sinners – Fortitude, in exercising the courage to speak the truth to someone in error, you build fortitude
    Instruct the ignorant – Faith, in instructing the ignorant you strengthen your own faith
    Counsel the doubtful – Prudence, in dealing with doubts, you develop wisdom
    Comfort the sorrowful – Justice, in comforting the sorrow, you learn empathy, which will motivate you to be just to others
    Bear wrongs patiently – Temperance, in bearing wrongs patiently, you learn restraint
    Forgive injuries – Love, in striving to forgive, you learn love and mercy
    Pray for the living and the dead – Hope, in praying for others, you learn to hope for change in this life and heaven in the next