Can you name the seven deadly sins? I bet you can name most, if not all of them.
Did you also know that there are seven virtues? I have rarely heard much said at all about the virtues, though there are movies made about and structured around the sins. I once read that the castaways on Gilligan’s Island represented the seven sins, but I will leave that study up to you.
The seven virtues are said to be the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love, and the four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, and courage.
It does seem strange to live in a culture shaped by these traditions, yet to not hear about the virtues, but only the sins. By the same token, we only ever read one book of Dante’s three book journey into heaven, and it is not Paradisio.
Courage. It is seen as the first primary cardinal virtue in many manuals of spiritual devotion because any work towards the others required courage, which did not mean only fearlessness, but rather “to have heart.”
That phrase today is meant to have compassion or pity, “O, come on, have a heart.” But in the long Christian tradition it meant to have strength, courage, to not fear, to be bold. “Take heart,” says Jesus in John 14, “for I have overcome the world.” Jesus had just told the disciples that it was going to get rough, but that they were to love and to have peace by remaining in him.
Fear sells. From cable news to pharmaceuticals, from politics to security systems, fear moves products, gets out the vote, and gives heart to our worst selves. Encourage means “to give heart.” But we are told not to fear and not to encourage fear.
What are you giving heart to these days? What can we do to embolden our hearts after a long season of fear and withdrawal from each other and the world?
I recommend a couple of classical disciplines.
Read the classics of faith, whether Augustine or Benedict or Theresa. But I might make a suggestion for our times: Thomas á Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. It speaks directly to courage and following Christ, and if you look back at these important ancient works, their times were often way worse than ours. We have COVID; they had Black Death, for example. We have Pfizer. They had leeches.
It can help to keep things in perspective.
Speaking of perspective, the second discipline I would recommend is gratitude. Taking some time every morning to give thanks can keep the daily grind in perspective.
All kidding about the past besides, we have amazing lives. We live like royalty, historically speaking, and we have much for which to be thankful.
So when you rise, lift up your hands to the heavens and give thanks.
The Very Rev. Daniel P. Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona