BY BISHOP JIMMY NUNN
He held the aerosol can upright and pressed its button. I heard the hiss of contents spewing through the tiny hole. He had carefully wrapped the can with a homemade sign that read “PALE GAS.”
As he sprayed the can intermittently during his presentation, this Catholic deacon talked about the “seven deadly sins,” behaviors long identified by Christians as the worst vices. Historically, the Church has referred to them as deadly because they are the taproots of sin.
The seven deadly sins are terminal to the soul because each one starts with placing yourself and your will at the center of everything.
I have not forgotten the acronym I learned that day. PALE GAS is a shortcut for learning the names of those sins.
The point the deacon made was that we can be propelled by PALE GAS, not unlike that which spewed from the can he held — or we can be moved by the Wind of God, the Holy Spirit.
Over the past 20 years, I have spent time during Lent examining myself through the lens of PALE GAS. I write these thoughts hoping they will provide you also with insights for reflection and life during this season of the Christian year.
P is for pride. Pride declares: I want to be the ruler and center of my life.
A is for anger (or wrath). Anger says: I want to get even with you.
L is for lust. Lust says: I want my way with you.
E is for envy. Envy says: I want what you have.
G is for gluttony. Gluttony says: I want a lot.
A is for avarice (or greed). Avarice says: I want a whole lot.
S is for sloth (or apathy). Sloth claims: I don’t want to care or to do something any more.
Over the years, I have developed a shorthand to increase the awareness of my blind spots that relate to the seven deadly sins. Here are a few of my ideas.
Pride’s opposite is humility. Gratitude nurtures humility, and humility slays pride.
Anger’s opposite is forgiveness. Forgiveness frees me from the bondage of heartache and releases the other person.
Lust’s opposite is self-control. Self-control makes way for God’s way. “As lust awakens, reason is lulled to sleep and the habit becomes binding” (Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot, 1090-1153).
The opposite of envy is celebration. Celebrate other people! Envy determines your value in comparison with others, leads to “I want more to raise my own esteem.” Don’t compare. Rather, think “complete my joy” (Philippians 2:2).
Gluttony’s opposite is moderation. The goal is to be filled, not full.
Avarice’s opposite is generosity. Generosity forms the foundations of character; greed erodes humanity.
The opposite of sloth is service. “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40 CEV). Never miss an opportunity to do good.
PALE GAS can be daunting. Remember the Wind of the Spirit. “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13 NRSV).
The Bishop recommends:
Bishop Jimmy Nunn recommends the book “Right Here Right Now (The Practice of Christian Mindfulness),” by Amy Oden of Oklahoma, published in August 2017 by Abingdon Press.
Professor Oden teaches early church history and spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University. The bishop said “Right Here Right Now” is a good introduction to the history of Christian thought and, for him, calls upon the tradition of the desert fathers.