From the time I arrived at the parish I have desired to explore with you something you hear very little about these days, “The Seven Deadly Sins”, or the “Seven Capital Sins”. The Church has been contemplating “The Seven Deadly Sins” since the time of Paul. Later, Pope St. Gregory, Dante, and many others have written and taught about them.
Let’s understand a little more about sin. Sin is simply a morally bad act. Sin separates us from God. Mortal sin is deadly sin when it kills our love for God, and separates us from God. Mortal sin is like suicide. God does not kill sinners. Sinners kill themselves through their own decisions. There is no eternal life apart from God. Mortal sin cuts us off from our final destiny: Heaven, our eternal Salvation. The Seven Deadly Sins are mortal sins, because they are a “Source” of sin. If you do these sins, you will be committing not one, but a series of sins that flow from them and cut you off from God. That makes them deadly, when you lose eternal life.
The Seven Deadly Sins include: Pride, Avarice, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Envy, and Anger. These are sources of further sin. If you have chosen Pride, or Gluttony, for example, then you will choose more sin according to your previous choice of these “capital” sins. Moreover, these are personal choices that we all make.
Let’s start this week with Anger, and begin with an example. Let’s say that as you walk out of Mass today, a bird drops its mess on your nice Sunday clothes. If you are like most people, when you discover the mess you will probably experience some anger. As you experience anger you may notice that the very first reaction that you have is one you cannot control. It just happened. And you cannot control your first emotional response. There is no sin in this first level of anger.
However, the possibility of sin comes very quickly. Let’s say that you decide to yell some loud obscenity. That is your decision. You chose to do this. Being angry wasn’t necessarily your choice. Cursing was totally your choice, because it involved your Will. So, there is Emotion, Reason and Will. God gave you your emotions, and the emotion of anger is not sinful. Emotions are never sin. Sin requires your decision and action.
Let’s say that someone you love hurts your feelings. God gave you those feelings. It hurt. You are angry. That is not sinful. Now, you yell back at them. That was your decision, your will. You could have made another choice, to control your emotions. The moral life involves our choices, not our emotions. Emotions are natural, a gift from God. Emotions can never be sinful; you don’t have much control over emotions. Sin is your decision to take things into your own hands. You always have control over your own sin.
Emotions can be temptations. We are immediately presented with a situation, and one of the choices is to let the emotion run away with us. We teach our children to overcome their emotions. We never tell them not to feel their emotions. We teach them to control their emotions and not let their emotions control them. We have a word to describe this. We call it “maturity”.
God expects us to have our emotions and to use them maturely. Jesus felt emotions. He cried when his friend Lazarus died. Jesus became angry at the money changers in the Temple and chased them out. However, he did not allow his emotions to control him. Jesus was angry, but he did not sin.
When we choose to allow our emotions to control us, like a screaming two-year-old in meltdown when they have missed a nap, we call that immaturity. Sometimes we may feel like that two-year-old, but we do have the ability to control ourselves.
Some people are abusive in their run-away emotions of anger. We see anger abuse all around us and it even becomes characteristic of some families, with shouting and fighting, even violence. This is sinful and pathological and demands help, because these characteristics may be passed down from one generation to another in the family tree. However, it always begins with a choice to be angry. Anger abuse is always the result of a person choosing not to control their emotions.
Sometimes, we may even be angry with God for some reason or another. This is not so unusual. But, we must never simply be emotional with God, but also speak with Him about our concerns, even asking how to overcome a Deadly Sin like anger. Talk to God about it.
In the readings from Scripture today, we are encouraged to be intimate and personal with God. Abraham is shown negotiating with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is respectful of God, but persistent.
When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, Jesus tells them to begin by calling God, “Father”. That is intimate, and was not previously the way Israelites prayed to God. Jesus tells us to be persistent. In this personal relationship, Jesus tells us that we should ask God for anything and to be persistent about it. We should not “test” God. But we should not give up in our conversation with him.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
St. Paul tells us,
“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
And, Paul responds,
“No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The sin of anger is a slippery slope when we seek vengeance or violence or angry response. When we allow our emotions to control our anger, that is our decision. Anger has always been seen by wise men as sinful because it opens the door to the mortal, deadly sin of “hate”. Each of us must learn to conquer our anger.
St. Paul cautions us,
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.”