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"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20

 

Burnish Your Virtues

Laura DeMaria

A couple weeks ago our young adult group held an ask-the-Priest wine and dinner night with Father Berghout. While most of the discussion revolved around relationships and marriage (of course, especially considering Father is an annulment lawyer and given the general audience age), we also had a very interesting conversation about the seven deadly sins.

This came up because we had all recently heard another prominent priest's perspective on, "What is the greatest temptation for sin facing young adults in the current culture?" That particular priest stated it was sloth, the "noonday devil," also known as acedia. Apparently this is something that has been on people's minds for a long time (like centuries), and it refers not just to laziness but to a sort of zoning out and disengagement from real life. Conversely, acedia manifests itself as "busyness" that has no greater meaning and does not allow one to pursue meaning in one's life. That's the most simplistic way to put it.

Anyway, Fr. Berghout had a different answer. He believes that temptations are different for men and women, with lust/gluttony being first for men and envy/pride being  first for women. Men tend to be sensate, pursuing physical satisfaction of various sorts, and women are cerebral, always looking and thinking about what others have. Again, a very basic interpretation of much larger issues, but one which has been on my mind as a result.

I don't think it's good to sit around and think about sin all the time. There's no purpose; while it's a blessing to be aware of your weaknesses if you are able to grow from them, I believe ultimately God wants us to be happy, and sometimes you just have to move on. But then the question arises: what do I do when faced with this thing which is a source of sin - of falling short, of missing the mark - this thing that, again and again, prevents me from becoming the best version of myself? 

Today a friend asked me a question. His dilemma was that a "friend" (put in quotations by him) was coming into town and wanted to hang. He was hesitant because he felt she mostly had "friendships" in order to get something out of them. Further, he knew he would begin to experience jealousy in conversation with her because of her superior pay grade, which inevitably always comes up. His question: is it the grown-up thing to do to see her and confront those feelings head on, effectively working on them, or is it okay to decline, avoiding the situation so as not to indulge that lesser side of his personality?

My advice was two-fold. The first thought is that it really is practical to avoid the situations that allow us to fall into sin. So, those who know they have a tendency toward gluttony should avoid the buffet. I have certainly avoided spending time with people who, for whatever reason, inspire uncharitable thoughts in my mind. What's the point? Prayer and practice make us stronger, yes, but no need to get right in the fire.

Secondly, we are adults and not only are we allowed to spend our time how we want and with whom we want, but most importantly, you don't owe anybody anything. Life is far too short to spend it with people who do not see the light inside you, respect it, magnify it, and love you for who you are. I can happily say that the people in my life, and who I spend time with, are there because I want them there. And they are amazing, awe-inspiring people who make me feel loved - just as it should be.

My last bit of advice to him was to examine why he felt the need to spend time with her. Was it out of guilt or a sense of obligation? Or because he genuinely wanted to spend time with her? This is a good practice in general - are the activities you're choosing ones that speak to your values and the vision you have for your life? More importantly - do you know what your values are?

So yes, looking at our weaknesses and the tendencies toward particular sins we carry around with ourselves can be useful, but don't get bogged down. A nightly examination of conscience should cover it. Instead, look at your strengths and the virtues you do have. Remember that God endowed you with the ability to be kind, patient, charitable, humble and so on. He has given every one of us these abilities. And best of all, you have the opportunity every day to burnish these virtues, in addition to using the many talents and charisms inside you. It is an exciting thought, that despite our fallen and broken nature, there is always the possibility for closeness with God through the true expression of who we are. Whatever doubts you have, or whatever you feel is lacking because of a disposition to a certain sin, remember that we were never meant to do this alone - God's grace will fill in those empty spaces.