Marriage & the Seven Deadly Sins

Yesterday I (Bob) was rereading Anthony Marinelli’s short book, Conscience & Catholic Faith in connection with a project I am working on and came to a section on sin and virtue.  The sins and virtues we find in the Bible and other places in Catholic writing may seem archaic to some, but I find the sins to be good reminders of the dangers to my relationships with God, Rita and others in the way I live my life and the associated virtues point to a way to live that counters the deadly sins and helps me to become a better person.  In this post we will list each of the deadly sins and the heavenly virtue which counteracts it with a short comment on its meaning and reflection on how it can affect a marriage.

The sin:  Pride.

An exaggerated sense of one’s own importance which subordinates all else to its own needs.

In a marriage the proud person considers oneself to be more important than one’s spouse.  It can come out as “I’m better than you and I know better than you what is best for you and us.  We believe that pride is the most difficult sin to overcome.  It is present in all of the other deadly sins and is the one we most need to work on in our marriage.

The virtue:  Humility.

Recognition and acceptance of one’s humanity with all its glory and limits.

A humble person is able to accept all that has been given to him or her – intelligence, heart, soul, spirit, friends, family – with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving.  In a marriage it means supporting one’s spouse and rejoicing in his/her accomplishments.  Our son-in-law, who works long hours, tells our daughter how grateful he is for the values and disciplines she has instilled in their daughters.  No one was prouder than he was, when she her doctorate was conferred.

The sin:  Envy.

A refusal to accept one’s own limits (and strengths) and truly begrudges the virtues and gifts of another.

In marriage, envy often presents itself in downplaying the accomplishments or talents of the spouse.  It can result in the envious person finding fault with the other in multiple ways.  He/she can’t allow the other to be seen as better or more capable that him/her self.

The virtue:  Self-acceptance.

The root of our worth is in relationship to God as a beloved child.

When I am good with myself, I can be good with Rita. Self-acceptance allows us true intimacy to develop.  We can work as a team, share responsibilities and truly just enjoy each other.

The sin:  Greed.

An inordinate desire for material possessions and wealth.

Greed allows jobs and material success to dominate one’s life.  Often it is seen as a way of loving one’s family by providing well for them. We can measure our self-worth in terms of material success (he who dies with the most toys wins). The most damaging effect on a marriage is that the acquisition of money and material goods becomes more important than the relationship with one’s husband or wife as well as focus on material goods as solely for oneself.

The virtue:  Social Justice.

Recognizing that the goods of the earth are intended for all, and seeking to live in such a way that all are invited to share in the banquet of human solidarity.

Social justice is often summed up as sharing your time, treasure and talent.  It puts material things into the perspective of service – to oneself and one’s family, but also to the service of the poor and the vulnerable in society.  It leads to a view of money and possessions as gifts to be shared in gratitude for all we have.  This is something we first learned from our parents. Our sense of gratitude for what we have has grown throughout our lives and our improving finances have called us to give more.  We still struggle to determine how much to give away now that we are retired and much of our income is fixed.

The sin:  Lust.

The attitude of the heart that sees in the other person the gratification of his or her sexual needs.  It reduces the person to an object.

It sometimes surprises people to learn that they can be lustful with their spouse.  Sex is all about me and my needs/pleasure and my spouse is present to take care of me.  It is the source of a great deal of tension in many marriages.

The virtue:  Chastity.

Realizing that an intimate sexual relationship involves fidelity and love more than biological and emotional needs.

In marriage, chastity is about fidelity, not just having one partner, but being faithful in communication, sacrifice, care and mutuality.  This is an area that we have worked on a lot.  Throughout our marriage we have had, and still have, periodic discussions about our sexual activity.  We each ask the other how am I doing in meeting your needs, is there more that I can do?  Do you feel loved and cared for?  It helps me to be aware of  myself and the other.

The sin:  Anger (Wrath).

The destructive passion against anything or anyone whom it sees as an enemy (real or perceived).

The sin of anger is more like hatred, than a momentary outburst when we are cut off by another driver.  In marriage it is ongoing, though sometimes below the surface.  It pops up at unpredictable times and situations.  Its effect on a marriage is that it often leads to insults and abuse.

The virtue:  Patience

Patience is being at peace with one’s own limitations and realizing that all human beings are still in process.

We think that patience is a companion virtue to self-acceptance.  It allows us to see our own imperfections and get beyond the annoying imperfections of our spouse.  Merinelli says that patient people know how to laugh.  We find that to be true.  When I am patient rather than responding in anger, I can see the humor in a situation and we often find ourselves laughing together when one of us is reminding the other of something they don’t like.

The sin:  Gluttony.

Self-indulgence in the areas of food, drink and drugs.  It’s the failure to recognize the importance and dignity of the human body.

Gluttony is not about addiction.  It is about the excessive use of food, alcohol and drugs which shows disrespect for one’s body.  Recently we’ve seen on Facebook many pictures of foods that would not be recommended on a healthy diet and younger people commenting on their hangovers.  In marriage it can lead to many things that are detrimental to relationships – including debilitating diseases, inability to perform sexually or even to care for the needs of the other.

The virtue:  Self-respect.

Related to the body self-respect recognizes that the body is not something that simply houses the soul.  It is an essential part of one’s very self.

Self-respect involves discipline, moderation, prudence, exercise and good eating habits.  It is a response to the concern that our bodies enable us to live good lives in service to others, as well as enjoy the wonders of the world in which we live.  Many years ago, when friends had health issues associated with eating habits, we became aware of our own health and together determined to work at eating healthily, exercising and generally taking care of our bodies.  We don’t know that we will necessarily live long lives as a result, but we do know that being healthy has many benefits in our ability to love and care for each other and serve others, as well as enjoy travel and good times with our family.

The sin:  Sloth.

Lack of commitment to the spiritual good; the smallness of heart that seeks its own ease above the love of God and neighbor.

Sloth is not about lying on the couch eating chips all day, but is about lack of attention in one’s spiritual life.  It can be lack of prayer, finding other things more important than going to church, most of the time, or simply deciding that God is not important in your life.  In a marriage it takes away a source of richness and healing in the relationship.  It also affects parenting and may result in children growing up with little spiritual development.

The virtue:  Love.

Willing the good of the other over self.

This is God’s greatest commandment.  It causes us to step beyond ourselves and acknowledge God’s love for us and to express it in caring for His people.  It is active and passionate and anything but lazy.  People who love find themselves expressing gratitude to God and others for the wonders active in their lives.  The lives of people who love are never boring.
Please add your comments below.

The list of sins/virtues and short descriptions are excerpted from:  Marinelli, Anthony, Conscience & Catholic Faith.  Paulist Press, New York,1991.

Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer:

  Living Together in the Word

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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at thewonderofmarriage.com and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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