During Lent, the Church invites us to engage in “spiritual combat” against these deadly sins
We admit that shadows lurk within our hearts. “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Romans 7:18)
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel prize winner and long-term prisoner of the Russian Gulag, said that “the battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.”
It’s too easy to divide good and evil between we good guys and those bad guys when, as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In the privacy of our consciences, we admit that shadows lurk within our hearts, the desire that makes sin appear to be an attractive choice. Our motives are always mixed. Like St. Paul, we lament, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Romans 7:18)
The desert fathers meditated long and hard on the human condition. Pope St. Gregory the Great, building upon the work of Evagrius and St. John Cassian, devised the list of what we call today The Seven Deadly sins. Sin, however, is not quite the correct term for these deadly traits in the depths of our souls.
The terms “sin” and “vice,” often used interchangeably, are not identical. Sins are specific acts of commission or omission. Vices are character traits. Like virtue, vices are developed through habit and practice, producing a person’s basic disposition. (The Catechism Glossary and #1813, 1866, 1849, 1853, 1854 offer the proper definitions of virtue, vice, and sin.)
All sin is more minor a violation of law than an attack on communion. It always involves two things: a violation or distortion of human nature and a betrayal of communion with God. A character rooted in vice produces acts by that vice. Similarly, a virtuous character has good fruit (see Matthew 7:16-20).
These seven vices – or, as we know them, Seven Deadly Sins – are the fountainhead of many of the sins we commit in our lives. When not rooted out and replaced by virtue, they can indeed kill the soul. A person’s essential character is permanently set upon death – either towards God or against Him.
During Lent, the Church invites us to engage in what is traditionally called “spiritual combat” against these deadly character traits wherever they have found safe harbor in our hearts. Not that we employ in this struggle alone. We depend on God’s grace and mercy to aid us at every step.
This series will offer brief meditations on each of the seven deadly sins. Following Evagrius’ lead, we begin with the grosser, more materialistic sins of lust and gluttony and move up to avarice, sloth, anger, envy, and finally to the crowning and most spiritual evil of pride.