Last week I wrote about the first step that a person needs to take to begin the process of overcoming his or her limitations, faults, and fears. That first step is to work daily at overcoming pride. None of us can completely eliminate pride. It will always be with us. But if we focus daily on replacing our pride with humility, we will eventually be able to minimize the impact that pride has our thinking, behavior, and reaction to others.
The biggest obstacle to minimizing our pride is the satisfaction and pleasure we receive when we engage in prideful thoughts and behavior. We enjoy the feeling of being superior to others. We get great satisfaction from being defiant, intolerant, and impatient with others. We like the feelings and emotions that are associated with the belief that we are smarter than everyone else. We take pleasure in getting revenge against people who have slighted or betrayed us.
None of these attributes were present in the holy family. The Son of God was conceived inside the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit and was completely free from all sin. The Blessed Mother was conceived without sin inside the womb of her mother, Anne. (This is referred to as the Immaculate Conception). And according to Catholic tradition, Joseph, the spouse of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, was born with original sin, but after his birth, his soul was cleansed and the stain of all sin was removed by Almighty God.
Even though Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were truly superior to all others, they behaved as though they were less deserving than everyone they came into contact with. They humbly relinquished the freedom they had to be self-righteous and to feel superior to others. They also voluntarily gave up their freedom to be defiant, intolerant, vain, boastful, impatient, unforgiving, dishonest, hypersensitive, conceited, stubborn, revengeful, and blind to advice.
The holy family had every right to be self-righteous, unforgiving, and revengeful, yet they consciously utilized their free will to reject any temptation that may have come their way to engage in one or more of those vices.
Pride is only the first of two steps that we have to take on a daily basis to deal with our limitations, faults, and fears. The second step is to work at overcoming our primary fault. Because of original sin, we were all born with seven root passions: pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, and sloth. These are referred to as the Seven Capital Sins, and are also known as the Seven Capital Tendencies or the Seven Capital Passions.
Humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, had complete control over their root passions. Unfortunately, as a result of their original sin, they lost the ability to exercise complete control over their passions. Ever since then, original sin has automatically been communicated to and imposed upon all newly created souls. Every one of us — except for Jesus and Mary — inherited original sin from our first parents. Baptism removes original sin and restores sanctifying grace — the friendship of God — within a person’s soul; however, baptism does not remove the stain of original sin or our tendency to succumb to the root passions.
Our worst faults are often completely hidden from us. While the people who know us best can usually see our faults, most of the time we fail to see our own faults because our pride has completely blinded us to them. And, of course, the people who know and love us have given up on trying to tell us what our faults are, because they know we’ll react with anger and outrage if they are pointed out.
Because of our fallen human nature, combined with the individual unique traits we were born with, the environment we grew up in, and our life experiences as children and young adults, each of us developed a primary fault which caused us to become attached to and adept at one of the six remaining root passions — anger, lust, envy, gluttony, covetousness, or sloth. Here are the attributes that are associated with each of these six root passions:
Anger – Annoyance, indignation, rage, wrath, aversion, explosive, vindictive, impatience, revenge, cruelty, vengeance, not at peace, and/or fierce silence.
Lust – Uncontrolled curiosity about sex; carelessness in conversation with others; carelessness in reading and in viewing pictures, shows, movies, and videos; failure to control the imagination; failure to avoid people and places where temptation can arise; seeking out comfort and ease; failure to use the necessary means to control the flesh; and/or overfamiliarity with matters and events having to do with sex.
Envy – Discord, hatred, malicious joy, backbiting, bragging, detraction, jealousy, slander, spitefulness, teasing, petty persecution, splitting of friends, imputing of evil motives, joy at others’ sorrows, and/or boredom when others are praised.
Gluttony – Excessive thinking and talking about food; complaining about plain food; eating impulsively or hastily; neglecting others who are at the table; immoderation in wine, beer, or other alcoholic drinks; and/or loud and boisterous behavior at the table.
Covetousness – Deceit, stinginess, lack of generosity, disquietude about position or work assignment, hoarding, secretiveness, and/or ungraciousness when performing or receiving a favor.
Sloth – Laziness, tardiness, procrastination, idleness, indifference, discouragement, softness, nonchalance, moodiness, gloominess, focusing on the past rather than the present, distastefulness toward life, disquietude about position or work assignment, unwillingness to make commitments, feeling sorry for oneself, indifference to character development, lukewarmness, failure to develop and cultivate virtue, and/or distaste for the spiritual.
If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you may have issues with several of the above-mentioned sinful passions. But you may not be sure about which passion represents your primary fault. If you were to ask the people who love you and are closest to you, they would probably do a better job of identifying your primary fault than you would be able to do.
Once you determine what your primary fault is, if you have the humility to do so, you will admit that you derive a great deal of satisfaction, enjoyment, and pleasure from engaging in thoughts and behavior that are associated with your primary fault. Because of the way you feel when you engage in those thoughts and behavior, it’s difficult for you to consciously exercise the freedom to choose to practice the virtues that are contrary to your primary fault, rather than the vices that are associated with your primary fault.
Because of our fallen human nature and our attachment to and affection for our primary fault, it’s almost as though there is a gravitational force that pulls us toward the vices that are associated with the primary fault.
I’ll finish up on this topic next week.