Most Catholics know about the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. Fewer are familiar with the seven, heavenly virtues that serve as counterparts to the seven deadly sins. It’s important to know about these virtues, or good habits, so you can answer the call to personal holiness and become a saint. The seven heavenly virtues are humility, liberality, chastity, meekness, temperance, brotherly love, and diligence. Let’s look at each in detail and learn how you can put them into practice.
Humility involves being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, together with a willingness to submit to God and others. It takes the middle ground between pride, or thinking too highly of yourself, and abjection, or thinking too lowly of yourself. When you’re humble, you acknowledge your dependence on God, and you voluntarily obey His commandments. Humility also allows you to serve your subordinates because you recognize that at least in some respects they may have talents and abilities you don’t have, despite the fact you possess the same, God-given dignity. To grow in humility, try doing something you might otherwise consider beneath you the next time a situation calls for it.
More than once in the Gospels, Jesus admonishes His followers to avoid attachments to money (Mt 6:19-21, 24; Mk 10:17-24; Lk 8:14). He’s not saying there’s anything intrinsically wrong with wanting it. Rather, He’s warning that the excessive pursuit of money tends to cause people to sin to get the things they want. Liberality, the good habit of being generous with your money, is the virtue that counters this sinful tendency. It not only detaches you from material goods, but it also enables you to see the greater value of spiritual goods. When you give sacrificially, you imitate Jesus who gave Himself as a sacrifice for you on the cross, and who continues giving Himself to you in the Eucharistic offering. You can become more liberal by giving money to a reputable charity, like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Chastity has to do with the regulation of your sexual desires. Although sexuality is a good and holy gift from God, it is capable of misuse. Our secular society encourages people to squander their sexuality through fornication and adultery. These misuses are both wrong and ultimately unsatisfying. The only way to satisfy your deepest desire for genuine, lasting love is through the lifelong practice of chastity. Depending on your vocation in life, chastity takes different forms. For single persons, it requires abstinence from any type of sexual activity; for married couples, it includes mutual fidelity between spouses, as well as an openness to the gift of life. Regular recourse to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance can be of great assistance in the ongoing pursuit of chastity.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (Mt 5:5). Meekness is the good habit of remaining patient in the face of provocation. When someone does something evil that provokes or angers you, it’s natural to desire revenge. In fact, “righteous anger” is the name we give to the reasonable desire for vengeance that seeks proper correction and justice. A problem arises when the vengeance is disproportionate to the evil committed. The solution is meekness. By reigning in the tendency to lose your temper at the smallest slight, meekness not only alleviates anger, but it also makes room for forgiveness. To grow in meekness, consider praying St. Thomas More’s Prayer for One's Enemies for anyone who provokes you.
Temperance involves the moderate consumption of food and drink. Moderation is necessary to avoid excessive indulgence or asceticism. Becoming an outright glutton, or a hermit in a cave are not your only options. Temperance takes the middle ground between these all-or-nothing approaches. A temperate person practices self-discipline. One way of fostering temperance is by periodic fasting. In other words, take something you enjoy and deprive yourself of it for a day, week, or month. Fasting teaches your body it is not at the mercy of its basic drives and instincts; that it must answer to the soul, its higher, spiritual principle. The more you practice denying yourself legitimate goods, the better you will be at denying yourself when it comes to evil inclinations.
How can you know you’ve risen from spiritual death to life? St. John says you can know because you love your brothers (1 Jn 3:14). Brotherly love is the good habit of wanting the very best for others. Whereas envy is selfish, and becomes fixated on the feeling of sadness that derives from the absence of some good, brotherly love is selfless, and rejoices over others’ abundance. It is evidenced by the genuine happiness you allow yourself to feel when another person experiences success. To grow in brotherly love, look for opportunities where you can give without receiving anything in return. You might consider doing things like holding doors, donating blood, or simply listening to others.
Diligence has to do with perseverance; particularly in matters of faith. It is marked by a bold determination to make progress in the spiritual life. However, progress doesn’t happen by accident. You must set realistic goals for yourself, take the necessary steps to achieve them, and monitor your progress to see how well you are doing. For example, perhaps you want to begin praying the rosary once a week. To accomplish your goal, you set aside time every Sunday evening for prayer. At the end of the month you consider how successful you were. It turns out you only prayed twice. Unlike the spiritually slothful, you remain steadfast in your commitment to make progress, despite your failure. As a person who practices the good habit of diligence, you know persistence always produces favorable results.
All growth in virtue begins with a single decision to do good. So the next time you’re tempted to commit any of the seven deadly sins, remember you can decide to act differently. You can decide to practice the seven heavenly virtues. The more you do, the more you will mature in holiness and the closer you will get to your ultimate goal of sainthood.