The usual unconscionable flight delays finally landed me at home at 2 in the morning yesterday -- I had been expected a mere five hours earlier. So I was in no mood to receive the news that we now have seven more deadly sins, in addition to the ones with which I already contend.
The new list was a response to globalization, it said in the paper. The Vatican thinks the old Seven Deadlies present too individual an approach to morality. So while lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride will still be around, a new generation will include accumulating obscene wealth, polluting the environment, genetic engineering, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice.
I relaxed immediately. Oh, good. None of these are new. The new crew is simply a modern version of the old one. Accumulating obscene wealth is a blend of avarice and pride. Pedophilia combines anger and lust. Polluting the environment mixes pride, gluttony and sloth. I can spell out the rest of them if you'd like, but you can also do it for yourself, and it is a most interesting activity.
The reason I care about this is that I have found the Seven Deadlies very useful in 28 years of hearing confessions, and I wouldn't want to give them up. Nor am I interested in adding to them: in all these years of listening to the things people do to themselves and to one another, leaving all manner of sorrow and rage and terrible scars in their wake, I haven't heard a single sin that was not one of those medieval seven. There really aren't very many sins, and there are no new ones. Circumstance and fashion changes, but we don't. We just keep doing the same old things. Most of us have a few personal favorites we repeat again and again.
And why are the Seven Deadlies useful to me in hearing all those confessions? Because one of a confessor's jobs is to help people organize and understand their moral lives. Some people do think everything is someone else's fault, but more people think the reverse: they shoulder heavy loads of guilt for things that are really not sins at all or, if they are, are really not theirs to carry. So we go down the list of the things they think they've done wrong, using the Seven Deadlies as a guide; often, some of the things they've felt worst about don't really qualify as sins. When we've satisfied ourselves that we've found the ones that do, we continue with the confession to its desired conclusion, the absolution and remission of sins. Not of mistakes or weaknesses or diseases: those things need healing in other ways. In confession, we just do sins: things we've done in full knowledge of how hurtful they were, willing to sacrifice the good to them and willing to allow them to eclipse the very love of God from our sight. Shame about some of these things can keep a person silent about it for a lifetime. It feels very, very good to lay something like that down at last.
This Saturday, March 15: Barbara Crafton at Holy Trinity, Ocean City, NY, 9-4. "Prayer in Time of War" is the theme of this third annual Pre-Holy Week retreat day. Military veterans and families of people in the armed services might find this retreat especially helpful, as will anyone who is concerned about the war. Telephone the church at 609-399-1019 to register.