Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Avarice, Anger and Lust
Old Sins, New Forms

Father John J. Lombardi 

Avarice: "An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community," Alan Greenspan, legendary head of the Federal Reserve Bank said recently.

Why is this Jewish economist talking like a Catholic medieval theologian-as if one of the capital sins has strangled modern America? Before answering that, wait-there's more theology in our contemporary news. The top three news stories of last week dealt with three of the seven capital sins.

One of them reported that a Muslim group killed people in anger in a suicide bus bombing. Meanwhile, the children of famous baseball slammer, Ted Williams, in a lust for biological perfection, allegedly sent his body for a cryogenic deep freeze. Some asked, "Is ethics being frozen over?" (Interestingly, cryogenics, is the biological study of life (genics) at low (cryro) temperatures. This recent interest seems opposite of global warming).

It seems that it's time for a lesson on "Life 101 and the Seven Capital Sins."

Fr. Adolphe Tanquerey, in his famous work, "The Spiritual Life," writes about "The Struggle against the Capital Sins" (p.393): "In order to complete the purification of souls and prevent it from relapsing into sin, we must set upon the source of the evil within us…the root of the seven capital sins, these evil inclinations, must be known and attacked… they are called sins, because they lead to sins; they are called capital because they are the fountain-head or source of other sins." Father Tanquerey would probably never be accepted in a self-esteem workshop or modern school-even some Catholics might shun him. And yet his take on life and our human make-up is solid, classical and biblical, acknowledging that within us lurks evil (see Mt 15:19), that we must attack certain sinful tendencies (Mt.5:29), and that we all need purification (Rm 3:23). The seven capital sins are: pride, anger, greed, avarice, lust, envy, and sloth.

Now, back to avaricious America and Mr. Greenspan. He was testifying to Congress last week and gave a mini-treatise on: 1) human nature, 2) sin, and 3) developmental anthropology. What did the sage say? "It's not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously." Perfectly put!

The Catholic Church teaches the same thing (although we get hammered for it when the Catechism of the Catholic Church was compiled), i.e., there are no new sins, human nature doesn't change and there's nothing new under the sun. However, there are different manifestations-avenues-of sins and sinfulness.

Although the Fr. Tanquerey's definition is almost a century old, it is prescient (fore-knowing): "Avarice is the inordinate love of earthly goods… The disorder further manifests itself in the manner of seeking riches… Modern civilization has developed another form of this insatiable love of riches, plutocracy, the hankering thirst for becoming millionaires. Not in order to safeguard one's future, but to attain the power and control which money gives. Avarice is a sign of mistrust in God."

Response: Ok, forget the bogeymen of Wall Street and the Fortune 500 CEO's? Are you avaricious in any way? How do you fight against this human tendency? What avenues of greed are in your life? How can you trust in God more to supply your needs?

Anger: In "more of the same," Islamic militant groups killed innocent Israelis last week thru suicide bombers. This is anger with a vengeance-sheer madness. Just as the so-called Catholic Irish Republican Army and Orange Order militants once sought peace thru violence by murdering bystanders in Northern Ireland, this syndrome continues like a scar and scab on our world's body without end in sight. Yasser Arafat began a cycle of this in 1965 with his Fatah Movement (still existing), by attacking Israel in a pre-dawn raid. Now, as head of the Palestinians, his movement, government and peace maneuvers seemingly seek no hostages. Some are training children to become suicide bombers within Palestine auspices. Anger, rage, and violence are mainstreamed there.

The nature of anger is that each act of violence within a person builds upon previous ones-fire feeds off existing material. The sinful disposition grows into a hardness of heart, and eventually gains popular appeal and momentum to the point that violence becomes institutionalized, part of the very blood and culture of a country. As our own children are air-conditioned, these children are violence-conditioned; anger becomes a way of life. We ask, "How can so-called religious people engender violence?" We may grow skeptical over Palestine and Northern Ireland, but there are exceptions that standout. The Dalai Lama has never promoted anger or violence against the occupying Chinese, despite fifty years of cultural rape and occupation. Knowing the vicious seeds that anger sprouts and inevitably sows, he promotes only peace and non-violence. Always remember: You reap what you sow (Mt.25:32). A brusque comment of a recent New York Times Magazine article (June 30, 2002), struck me: "We have seen the children of the first Intifada become suicide bombers…You only have to wait and see these children of today, what kind of horror they will bring to the world." Pray for peace!

Response: Fr. Tanquerey recommends ways to counter anger: practice heroic charity; reflect before responding to troubling situations or persons; invoke the assistance of God; recall the Lord's prayer ("Forgive us as…"); recall our Lord's patience; and avoid all thoughts of injuries received. Ask yourself: How am I violent (even subtly) in thought word or speech? How can I more frequently and expediently promote peace and reconciliation?

Lust: Ever since the Garden, mankind has lusted for more. More wealth, more sensual pleasure, more health. Now Ted William's family is possibly freezing his body to reproduce the "re-awakened cells" in the future. As a Boston Red Sox hitter par excellence, his bodily baseball cells will be available to his family and others-a la Frankenstein-to market to those who don't like their God-given bodies.

What next under the Sun?! See mankind lust for knowledge. See men and women lust for good looks. See many lust for better lawns. See human's lust for bigger boats, a different car, larger dogs or biceps… (I once lusted for records, clothes and mechanical pencils. Yes, I was that fallen!)

Lust, like any greedy disposition or tendency, will continue until and unless it is radically addressed. Being fallen creatures, we like, think we need, or desire, other creatures and creations more than the Creator. When will it stop?

A mom of seven children once told me that she taught her children to master the self by practice saying "No," rather than endlessly collecting things that give only a fleeting happiness. This is how we gain self-mastery, and accept both the limitations and liberation of simplicity. After all, we really don't need that much!

Response: How can I accept, with more gratefulness, the many things God has given me? Count at least three graces/blessings a day God has given you. Repeat and grow in love, not lust. What in my life and heart needs purification?…

"We find freedom when we find God; we lose it when we lose Him." +Paul E. Scherer

Briefly Noted

Evil and Good in this Sunday's Gospel (Mt. 13:36ff): How can I exercise the virtue of charity by tolerating (disagreeing with, but putting up with) evil in the world? Since this life is far from perfect, how can I nurture the virtue of hope in my spiritual life? Pray…

Prayer of the Week: "Lord, help me to change the things I can; to accept the things I cannot; and grant me the wisdom to know the difference." +Niebhur

Becoming Holy: A young lady is going to become a Dominican Sister (one of their mottos is "Bark the truth"). A friend of the Grotto's replied, upon hearing this, "O, you're going to become a Bride of Christ…That's great--What's just as important is giving your heart to Him, Jesus…" Yes, that's true: let us all continue to try to give, ever more completely, our total hearts and lives to Jesus Christ!…May more young men and women consider this holy calling of becoming a priest or sister.

Comments on the Commandments:

"Thou shalt honor the Sabbath" (Ex 20). Comments from the U.S. Bishops, Letter on the Economy: "Leisure is connected to the whole of one's value system and influenced by the general culture one lives in. It can be trivialized into boredom and laziness, or end in nothing but a desire for greater consumption and waste. For Disciples of Christ, the use of leisure may demand being counter-cultural.

The Christian tradition sees in leisure, time to build family and societal relationships and an opportunity for communal prayer and worship, for relaxed contemplation and enjoyment of God's creation, and for the cultivation of the arts which help fill the human longing for wholeness.

Most of all, we must be convinced that economic decisions affect our use of leisure and that such decisions are also to be based on moral and ethical consideration. In this area of leisure, we must be on our guard against being swept along by a lack of cultural values and by the changing fads of an affluent society. In the creation narrative, God worked six days to create the world and rested on the seventh (Gn2: 1-4). We must take that image seriously and learn how to harmonize action and rest, work and leisure, so that both contribute to building up the person as well as the family and community."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi