Tag Archives: vice

The “Book” on Gambling

24 Apr

doctors of the church bingoSo what’s the big deal about gambling? After all, the Church says it’s not a sin. Why get worked up about church bingo?

The two key virtues when examining gambling are temperance and justice. The Catechism defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (no. 1809). Temperance, also called “moderation” or “sobriety,” is frequently praised in Scripture, although not always by name. For example, St. Paul instructs Titus that we should “live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Tit. 2:12).

Thus, when it comes to gambling, one must act moderately and not fall prey to the passion and excitement of the moment, which might lead him to wager an amount that is excessive for someone in his circumstances.

The virtue of justice applies to both the game itself and to the participants. The game must be fair and free from all fraud or deception. The participants should only risk “disposable” income. In other words, the money gambled should be viewed as a recreational expense that is not needed to meet one’s obligations to God, himself, his family, or his creditors.

Temperance and justice call for an examination of how one uses his time and resources. Even a wealthy, debt-free person needs to use moderation. Gambling ought not be an occasion to excessively separate a parent from his or her family, even if the amount gambled is modest. And everyone should recognize that money used on frivolous or excessive gambling can be put to better use, such as to help out those who are less fortunate. After all, as St. John Chrysostom said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life” (Catechism, no. 2446).

You Shall Not Steal

The Catechism treats the subject of gambling in the section dealing with the Seventh Commandment (“You Shall Not Steal”):

“Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant” (no. 2413).

While the Church does not consider gambling to be necessarily sinful, she does, however, recognize the serious dangers in habitual or excessive gambling. For many people, especially those with a particular weakness in this area, games of chance are an occasion of sin. Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine once said, “The Devil invented gambling.”

Parish Bingo

Gathering for a night of low-stakes bingo in the parish hall to socialize, enjoy a little excitement, and provide support for the parish is morally legitimate, both from the standpoint of the participant and from the standpoint of the parish that hosts the event.

However, since gambling can easily become a vicious habit, a parish or other church organization would be well advised to consider the following precautions when it comes to sponsoring bingo:

(a) Promote virtue. There are many ways this can be done. For example, limit the amount that one can wager. Don’t serve alcoholic beverages. Create a friendly, Christian atmosphere. In short, do whatever can be done to promote the positive aspects of bingo (e.g., recreation, fellowship, etc.) while preventing, to the extent possible, its negative side effects.

(b) Avoid scandal. Many people are scandalized by the fact that many Catholic churches use bingo as a means of generating revenue. This sense of scandal not only affects many Catholics but also other Christians who tend to see gambling as evil. This problem could be considerably lessened if bingo is clearly presented to parishioners and to the public as being used to raise revenue for effective Christian ministries. The scandal is greater when bingo is perceived as a “Catholic institution” in itself, and where the parish does not seem to do much to spread the Gospel.

(c) Evangelize.
All Catholics need to hear convincing, biblically sound teaching on stewardship, tithing, and generosity. Bingo may supplement this imperative, but not replace it. As for the non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics who are drawn to parish bingo looking for some “action,” reasonable efforts should be made not only to welcome the individual’s bingo money, but also the individual himself or herself.

(d) Avoid enslavement. Parishes, and not just gambling addicts, can become enslaved by bingo, such that the parish may consider itself forced to keep bingo in order to keep its school or religious education program in operation. I encourage pastors and parishes to prayerfully consider the possibility of liberation from the slavery of bingo. This freedom could be a scary thing. It would present a new set of challenges and call for creative ideas to compensate for the loss of bingo revenue while providing new opportunities for Christian fellowship. In this regard, some lay Catholics have successfully gone to their pastor and have offered to increase their weekly offering if the parish would eliminate its dependence on bingo. Such a gesture shows the pastor that despite our personal opposition to church bingo, we are fully committed to our support for the parish.

(e) Welcome other means of support. Even though parish bingo is not necessarily a sinful activity, some people are turned off by bingo and will not participate. Others simply may not have the time or interest. Still others may feel it is an occasion of sin for them and feel obliged to stay away. The parish should listen to the needs and concerns of these individuals and provide them alternative means of supporting the parish.

Conversely, all Catholics are bound to assist with the needs of the Church (Code of Canon Law, canon 222), and should not use their distaste for parish bingo as a pretext for not supporting the Church in other ways. Indeed, generosity is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a wellspring of renewal for the Church.

Giving with All Our Mite

Generosity is the virtue directly opposed to selfishness, which is the refusal to give of ourselves. The choice to be generous–to give of ourselves to God and neighbor–is nothing less than charity lived out in concrete circumstances. Christ Himself, in word and deed, taught that such self-giving is at the heart of the abundant, Trinitarian life He has come to give us.

In this life, generosity involves sacrifice and even death. This is the test of faith–to give in the midst of suffering. Our society doesn’t understand “sacrifice,” and consequently we are prone to selfishness in all phases of our lives, including our relationship with the Church. We’re a far cry from the Church of previous generations that was willing to build parishes, schools, and facilities with its own blood, sweat, and tears. If generosity literally means “full of giving life,” then it’s not a stretch to see that selfishness plays a significant role in what has been called a “culture of death.”

Let’s look at ways that we can grow in generosity.

First, are we generous with God Himself? Is prayer a regular, vital part of our daily lives, or is it merely a weekly obligation or something we do only in times of need?

This sometimes apparent “waste” of time does not “change” God, but it does change us and is a source of profound blessing.

Second, are we generous in our support of the apostolate, putting our time, talents, and checkbook at the service of the Gospel? Do we tithe? Do we give our “first fruits” or our spare change? Do we give only out of our excess, or do we give whatever we can, like the widow in the Gospel (cf. Lk. 21:1-4)?

Third, are we generous to others? Are we generous with our family, especially with our spouse and children? Are we generous as married couples, opening our home to another child or perhaps a family member or even a stranger in need? Are we sensitive to the needs we see all around us, looking for the “hidden Jesus” in the poor or forgotten in our midst?

This generosity will go a long way toward reinvigorating our own lives of faith and will help build up the Church in our midst. Our Blessed Lord will not be outdone in generosity:

“Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you and overflowing blessing” (Mal. 3:10).

Let’s put Him to the test.

Catechesis on the Seventh and Tenth Commandments

13 Dec

stealToday in our catechetical series on the commandments, we turn to the Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal.

But just as the Sixth and Ninth Commandments work together to shape our approach to human sexuality, the Seventh and Tenth Commandments work together to shape our approach to the goods of this world, recognizing that we “cannot love God and money” (Mt. 6:24). The Church isn’t satisfied with our simply not taking what doesn’t belong to us (though that’s a good start!), but wants us to approach worldly goods in a spirit of stewardship and detachment. So we also include here the Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The Seventh Commandment forbids theft, which is the unjust taking or using of another’s property against the reasonable will of the owner. This can be done also by paying unjust wages, speculating on the value of goods in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others, or by forging checks or invoices. Other acts forbidden by this commandment include tax evasion, business fraud, willful destruction of private or public property, usury, corruption, the private abuse of common goods, work deliberately done poorly, and waste.

Early in its treatment of the Seventh Commandment, the Catechism talks about the “universal destination of goods,” a principle which acknowledges that God entrusted the earth’s resources to all people. This speaks not only to our sharing resources with others who are less fortunate than we are, but also being good stewards of creation and the earth’s resources for future generations.

At the same time, the Church affirms the right to private property, so long as it’s justly obtained and used. The purpose of private property is to guarantee the freedom and dignity of individual persons by helping them to meet the basic needs of those in their charge and also of others who are in need.

As Vatican II, citing numerous saints and social encyclicals, teaches:

“[M]an should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 69).

One can readily see that the Church finds in this commandment the basis for her rich social teaching, which guides our approach to economic, social, and political life, the right and the duty of human labor, justice and solidarity among nations, and love for the poor. Over the course of 2013, we will survey the various dimensions of the Church’s social teaching in more detail.

The Seventh Commandment requires respect for the goods of others through the practice of justice and charity, temperance and solidarity. In particular it requires respect for promises made and contracts agreed to, reparation for injustice committed and restitution of stolen goods, and respect for the integrity of creation by the prudent and moderate use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe with special attention to those species that are in danger of extinction (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 506).

The Lord truly does hear the cry of the poor and identifies with them. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy and the many charitable institutions formed throughout the centuries are a concrete witness to the preferential love for the poor which characterizes Christian disciples (Compendium, no. 520). We need look no farther than Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for evidence that we are called to love the hidden Jesus in the poorest of the poor (cf. Mt. 25:31-46).

As we interiorize the Seventh Commandment, we come to see Our Lord as our treasure, and we hear the call to abandon ourselves to His providential care.  The Tenth Commandment continues this work upon our heart, as it calls us in particular to work against the vices of avarice and envy.

Avarice involves an excessive, disordered desire for riches and power.  In other words, we “covet” our neighbor’s good and may go to the extreme of unjustly taking these goods for ourselves.

Envy, meanwhile, involves sadness at another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for ourselves by whatever means we can.

We combat these vices of avarice and envy–and thus observe the Tenth Commandment–by fostering in ourselves a spirit of goodwill and humility, and by rejoicing in other’s blessings.

For more on these commandments, check out Catechism, nos. 2401-63 (Seventh Commandment) and nos. 2534-57 (Tenth Commandment).

Anger Management

6 Sep

Why is anger considered a deadly sin? After all, didn’t Christ Himself get angry at times?

Anger is unique and tricky because it is both a capital, or “deadly” sin (gravely evil) and also a passion (morally neutral, or even amoral). All human beings have passions, feelings, and emotions. The passion of anger is rightly directed toward perceived evils, and the better formed we are the more our emotional response of anger will be calibrated rightly.

For example, a saint would be angered by sin; one with less virtue might be angered by having to wait an extra minute in a shopping line. But the intellect and will must call the shots, not the anger–otherwise, we will move from passion to sin. That’s why it’s often important to cool off–if necessary and if circumstances allow–before responding to a perceived evil or injustice.

The passion of anger can and must be put to good use. We have a duty to resist evil, and so the lack of passion is a defect insofar as it would lead us to indifference toward sin.

How we deal with our anger matters greatly. Any evil that comes our way must be opposed righteously–always with the goal of fostering the salvation of souls and never to exact revenge. The crosses, abuses, and frustrations that provoke us to anger are the very stuff of our salvation. That doesn’t mean we must become doormats. However, when we seek legitimate redress we must unite ourselves more completely to Christ and gratefully welcome these opportunities to grow in grace and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, we should pray fervently for those who cause us to become angry. Having a godly attitude toward them won’t necessarily change them (though it might), but we’ll find that these prayers will change us, softening our hearts but not our minds.

Our Lord was like us in all things but sin. Therefore, He experienced the passion or emotion of anger, but He never committed the sin of anger. Meekness is the virtue opposed to anger, and Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).

For more on the virtue of meekness, which moderates the passion of anger, click here.

Sloth Management

20 Jul

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction.

(1) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day

I recently had the occasion to reread Blessed John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come. 

I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp!) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.

One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).

Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us.

This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.

On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”

When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.

In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of the church parking lot fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”

But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.

(2) Take stock of our schedule

Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.

That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.

(3) Cultivate virtue

If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are still some patches of green grass, despite the heat, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also fertilizing and watering the grass.

When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various forms of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.

When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.

The Sin of Sloth: What the Couch Potato and the Workaholic Have in Common

19 Jul

When many of us think of sloth, we probably conjure up images of an ugly South American animal that eats shoots and actually hangs around. Or maybe we think of unshaven Joe Sixpack lying on the sofa all weekend, not lifting a finger except to open another cold one.

The latter is a fairly apt image of the vice of sloth or its synonyms such as boredom, acedia, and laziness. Boredom refers to a certain emptiness of soul or lack of passion; acedia refers to the sadness that comes from our unwillingness to tackle the difficulties involved in attaining something good; laziness more generally refers to the torpor and idleness of one who is not inclined to exert himself.

Sloth encompasses all these ideas and more. In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as “sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer.”

One might have the impression that sloth is not a typically American sin. The virtues of diligence and industriousness are deeply ingrained in our nation’s Protestant work ethic. Our youth learn early on that the way to get ahead—at least for those who don’t win the lottery—is by working hard. The early bird catches the worm. Early to bed, early to rise. In a competitive, dog-eat-dog business world, everyone is looking for an “edge,” and that typically comes from outworking the competition.

And even apart from an employment context, when we want to communicate that our lives have been normal and healthy, we report that we’ve been “keeping busy.” Continue reading

Are Hot Dog Eating Contests Immoral?

14 Jun

A relative of mine entered a hot dog eating contest. You know, the kind where one competes with others to see who can eat the most hot dogs in 10 minutes. What do you think about the morality of this?

To be perfectly “frank,” I don’t “relish” having to come down on hot dog eating contests. I was an obese child, and as a youth, my eating exploits were legendary. And beyond my own personal struggles, gluttony is not considered a big deal by most people today.

Servant of God John Hardon gives the standard definition of gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins: “Gluttony is an inordinate love of eating and drinking. It means eating or drinking to excess, taking more than is needed or healthy, or indulging the appetite merely for pleasure, or beyond one’s means. . . .” 

St. John Vianney and many other saints affirm this teaching and write about the negative spiritual ramifications of gluttony.

I don’t know how one could take seriously this definition of gluttony and still find hot dog eating contests morally acceptable. It surely entails “eating . . . to excess, taking more than is needed or healthy.” It goes even beyond eating “for pleasure,” but makes it a quasi-sport/entertainment, completely detached from the satisfaction of one’s hunger. I think some analogy could be made to various “games” or “sports” that play on our lustful inclinations, such as wet T-shirt competitions, mud wrestling, and worse.

So, enjoy a dog or two at the Royals’ game, and leave it at that!