Fate’s fickle turns leave us with few lifelong friends. Some drifted in after high school but most are from my Notre Dame high school days. Over time those of us from Notre Dame grew closer even if hardly know when together in school. Many are bitter about the nuns and priests, the terror tales of hell they drilled into us which, caused them fear, confusion and guilt into adulthood. Bitter is not my cup of tea.
Instead, I explain they need to sympathize with the nuns and priests. They, unlike us, were trapped in their habits and left in the Middle Ages. We were privileged, we experienced a medieval religious experience in the 20th century and escaped into the 21st Century.
Instead of hateful bitterness they should feel empathy for the clergy and rejoice at their freedom from the inflexible orthodoxy others failed to escape; who became lifelong enmeshed in vows taken when young. I hold no bitterness, thank a priest never known for helping Mom and appreciate the education the nuns gave. I dwell on what’s positive, the spiritual experience of knowing God in a way few others enjoy and avoid God’s reprobation even if I can't step out of the path of God's strange ways.
Despite my secret puppet shadow’s abandonment, forgiveness by my confession, acceptance of what happened did and re-connection with God a residual feeling of sinfulness I couldn’t suppress persisted.
It wasn’t residual guilt from my last spree of infidelity. It was not caused by any of my adultery. It was something else awry with my soul. Once I soul searched and falsely concluded no one loved me. Now I soul searched wondering if it was me who loved no one.
As often, I mentally turned to Sister Mary Joseph the nun from 2nd grade who explained relgious dilimas for me. We held an in mind conversation with her guiding me to understand my spiritual discontent.
“Sister, despite my return to righteousness, my confession, acceptance of what happened did and re-connection with God’s mystical body something remains amiss in my soul.”
“Eleanor, there are 7 deadly sins in Dante’s inferno, do you remember them.”
“Yes, yes, I remember, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, each a subsequent step down into hell.”
“Are you guilty?”
“Well lust is a no brainer. I’ve confessed to that. It’s the least of them, only gets you stuck in the 1st level of hell. I’m not guilty of the worst, pride with my low self-esteem.”
“Sex is God’s special gift. It’s necessary for children, lust is necessary for sex, it’s not sex.”
“Okay adultery, that’s me, guilty as sin.”
“Yes you committed adultery but adultery may not be lust. Lust is excessive sexual thoughts and desires. Why did you cross adultery's threshold? Was it excessive thoughts and desires for sex?”
“No, I crossed in fear, not lust but still crossed, ended up on a water bed and became a sexual woman!”
“Yes you crossed the threshold and lay on his water bed but not for lust. You crossed the threshold for something else. Becoming a sexual woman was just discovery, vindication of being female.
It’s not excessive to ardently enjoy sex as a woman. Did lust, the excessive thought and desire for sex lead you astray again and again? Did you crave sex insatiably; completely give yourself up to dissipation and licentiousness to live a shameless profligate life? No, you were sated time and again with each and with your husband during bouts of faithfulness. You always put family before your sexual satisfaction even if your fortifications jeopardized them. It was not for lust you put them at risk. It was because of something else.”
As with the 10 Commandments the 7 deadly sins were not as simple as they sounded.
“Well sister, I did have sex over and over with other men. I had sex with many men, isn’t that lust?”
“No, a prostitute has sex with many but not for lust. It wasn’t sex which you sought over and over, it was something else. To acquire redemption you must understand what led to wantonness, the root of your disaffection. Let’s forge ahead and move on to the next, gluttony.”
“I love to cook and eat”
“Are you obese? Do you eat to excess and waste food just to eat? Is your sin overindulgence?”
“No, no as you see me, I’ve always been trim. Mostly I cook for others, for art.”
“It’s not gluttony to appreciate God’s gift of food and make His gift art. Gluttony is not your deadly sin.”
“Well how about the 3rd, greed? You know, big house, expensive car, Porsche, Mercedes, 5 caret ring, obvious ostentatious displays of wealth. I’ve pigged out, no?”
“You possessed and have many material things but have they possessed you? The wonderful things God permitted you were deserved from hard work and offset by your charity. You never purloined things due to obsessive desire to acquire them. Why did you acquire pretentious exhibits of wealth? It wasn’t greed. It was insecurity, your intransigent insistence on having your perceived fair share, to disavow its lack when young. Did you not give up many alluring things when renouncing your affairs? Did you not tell your husband you would follow him back to poverty if that’s where starting his business ended up? You’re not beholden to material things.”
“Okay, I’m generous to a fault, am beholden to material things by insecurity and worried I wasn’t getting my fair share in life not because I coveted anything for itself. My life pile of material things isn’t an unreasonable accumulation considering wealth. Let’s say for me greed is a venial due to poor childhood.”
It’s not for those reasons you are guilty of committing a venial sin of greed. It’s the ruby ring.”
“The ruby ring a lover bought? That was greed?”
“Was there not avarice in you plotting to get it and your rejection of the lesser pearl ring? It's venial only because while there was avarice in your heart the true motivation was due to something else, a different deadly sin.”
“Okay, I forgot about the ruby ring and how I manipulated to get it. Poor Enrico, I was unfair to him in hindsight. Now the 4th, sloth, I’m innocent, always a hard worker as Mom proclaimed.”
“Yes, you get a pass on sloth but you must understand sloth can also apply to a failure to see God’s gifts and an inadequacy of love. I’m putting you down for minor infractions here.”
“Yes sister, there were times I failed to appreciate God’s gifts of children, husband, a wonderful life and my inadequate love for them and God.”
“The 5th deadly sin is wrath which results in unnecessary violence, a desire to seek revenge, failure to forgive and spite.”
“I did hit a girl unfairly once due to wrath but I’ve never done so since.
“Yes, you hit the girl but that wasn’t wrath but defense of your father. Your mea culpa on learning her misfortune pardons you. While you rued your slap your sin was not seeking her out to apologize and seek forgiveness afterwards. That’s not a sin of wrath. It’s a sin of another kind.”
“If wrath is hate it’s true I hated Paul who abused me but more my own self. How could I be so stupid? I never, however, sought revenge. Once free of him I accepted who he was even if I didn’t forgive. I’ve struggled to have malice toward none but if I do, it’s of him.”
“Paul’s debasement didn’t cause wrath despite your lingering animosity. It was despicable what he did to you, a real danger not only to you but your family. Would you have shot him in cold blood if he returned only to spew calumnies injurious to your reputation? We don’t know but if you would shoot him it would not be because of wrath. It would again, be a different deadly sin.
How about Enrico, was he subject to your wrath?”
“Enrico? Why do you suggest wrath for Enrico? Is it because I manipulated him for the ruby ring, the other half of my avarice?”
“Again it wasn’t mortal but you were malicious toward him, no? Did you not enjoy his pleas not to abandon him? Did you not fail to wear his ring to spite with malice aforethought?”
“Hmmm…. Okay sister I accept there was some wrath but it’s venial, okay? With hindsight, I was petty and vindictive.”
“Good, you accept guilt, the first step in forgiveness. Your sin against him, however, is not wrath and if it is, it was venial as he was a bit of an asshole. It’s more complicated. Why did you enjoy putting him down? He was educated and you not, no? Was your demeaning deportment with him to mitigate your own dysfunctional family background? Let’s move on.”
“Sister the 6th deadly sin, envy or jealousy I take a pass on. I’ve never dwelled on what others have and I do not.”
“Not so fast. Why so many men? Why did you first agree to marry? Were you not afraid of missing out? Of not getting what you could? Did you not want more to paint on your landscape? Isn’t what you did in life related to what others have?”
“I see what you say. It’s tied to greed but again it’s venial for me, right?”
“It’s not your deadly sin which keeps your ailing soul searching for a cure. Like greed, your sin of envy is venial. You sought to acquire what others had was not for the thing but because of something else.
The first and foremost sin, pride, is the 7th deadly sin. Did you know, Eleanor, it’s the one which led to Lucifer’s downfall?”
“Yeah, I remember that one. Michael the Archangel pushed Satan into hell. Well sister I’m not guilty of pride. I’ve always suffered from self-esteem issues. Saint Michael can’t throw me out of heaven for pride.”
“Do you understand the sin of pride, the Queen of vices? It’s excessive self-admiration, vainglory for who you are. Your perceived low self-esteem was because you thought you were not the least but the best, the most deserving, the most accomplished. You thought you were better than others, much better, the best, yet you were ashamed of your family, your background and your perceived looks. You were upset because you were not the most admired when you thought you should be.
Yes, you grew up poor but many do and most struggle financially. You, however, because of pride considered it an insult. It’s why you never shopped with your mother after food stamps, your pride would not let you admit you were shamed by poverty when you were condescending of others. You never invited friends home because you were ashamed it would detract from your self-righteousness image. You shied away from boys, worried they would insult your looks. You were pertinacious in avoiding anything which detracted from your inner feeling of pretentiousness.
Once married you had everything yearned for. Still you crossed a threshold; not for sex but to prove you were worthy of the attention and admiration you deserved, finally recognized as the illustrious entity you were. The earrings, dress, shoes given by lovers slated your thirst of pride. You are narcissistic, loved to see your reflection in the mirror when having sex, affirmation of your desirability, your power over the man.
You attended a formal event with a lover wearing a pearl necklace and black gown which you loved but confronted with the event’s academics you were filled with unease, unease you would fall from his pedestal and be who you actually were, one uneducated and from poor family background, your pride shattered.
You were not heart broken when he left, you were pride broken, no longer his exquisite Asian doll. Again, and again you sought pride’s reinforcement with others until caught in the act by a man's womman lover. Her thrown shoe’s poison dart killed your pride as he abandoned you, unworthy of his attention to console her.
Paul? Was he not pride’s penance? Your debasement was to avoid seeing the pride within you, your assumed superiority.
Pride is your sin Eleanor, it's why your soul still seeks peace because you have not understood your true sin against God, the sin of excessive self-love. It’s why during sex you made love to yourself.”
“Oh, no, sister, you’re right! Pride’s my sin. It’s why, when selected among the many, I went to Notre Dame, because it marked me as better than the others. Even my good points of being the best wife and mother are tinged with pride, my pride to see myself as better than others as is my helping others, donating to charity and assisting in the children’s schools. Even helping Gabriel who was cheated on by his wife was tinged with pride!
Husband, his business, the children, grandchildren now great grandchildren all my love is tinged with pride. It’s why despite my love of them, I could betray them and risk everything. It was pride. My secret puppet shadow is pride!
What can I do now sister? Help me!”
“For every deadly sin, there is a compensating virtue. You can’t change what’s done. You accept, accept who you were with humility. To understand not what you did but why is the first step in humility. You still have time to sooth your disconsolate spirit. Just take one step at a time on the path of humility.”
As when young and often during life, Sister Mary Joseph helped me to move on and understand the complexities of life and my actions.
I take each day as a step into humility. My soul tags along the path to serenity.
Author Notes: She struggles with the why, why she was wanton.