Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lucky Sevens

I was privileged to attend a talk by Fr. Robert Barron earlier tonight. He spoke to an appreciative audience about "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues." Down-to-earth scholar that he is, Fr. Barron used the seven-story mountain in Dante's Purgatorio as a touchstone throughout his talk, and even suggested that the seven deadly sins could be remembered with reference to the characters in Gilligan's Island:

  • Pride -- Mr. Howell, basking in his wealth
  • Envy -- MaryAnne, frequently jealous of the attention that Ginger got
  • Anger -- The Professor, seething at the failure of repeated attempts to leave the island
  • Sloth -- Gilligan, always resting in his hammock
  • Covetousness -- Mrs. Howell, wanting more
  • Gluttony -- The Skipper, large and nominally in charge
  • Lust -- Ginger, hanging on to her movie star glamour even as a castaway
Fr. Barron observed that in his Divine Comedy (of which Purgatorio is the middle part), Dante made Mary the Mother of Jesus a counter-example to each of the vices. He also had practical advice for cultivating the virtues that flip those vices on their heads:
  • Humility
  • Admiration
  • Forgiveness
  • Zeal for the mission (because sloth is not just laziness; it's also aimlessness, which implies that its balancing virtue needs both direction and drive)
  • Generosity
  • Asceticism, understood as proper disciplining of the appetites
  • Chastity, understood as right relationship, and holding fast to the dignity of people as ends in themselves rather than means to personal pleasure.
In what I thought was an arresting metaphor, Fr. Barron quoted John Henry Newman to the effect that what gives a river vibrancy and life is the strength of its banks. If those banks are chopped away, he explained, the river spreads out into a "lazy lake," lacking purpose and direction.

When you've found the mission that God has for you, he said, you've found the "pearl of great price" that Jesus was talking about in the famous parable.

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