Whenever I am introduced to any Christian truths in the Church, I have the distinct impression that someone has really done their homework. As a Bible teacher, I know how hard it can be to convey Scriptural truths, and I have been repeatedly awed about how the Church has devised ways to explain deeply spiritual concepts that can be passed on to the next generation. One example of this, I call the “Treasure of Sevens,” and I hope you will see how I think they are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The number seven is frequently seen in Scripture—the seven days of creation, the seven last words of Christ, or the seven candlesticks, to name just a few. Any quick study will show many references to the number seven. Most students of the Bible think the number seven symbolizes completeness or fullness. The Church has certainly understood this meaning.
Let me share some of the ways the Catholic Church uses seven.
A quick review from the "Treasure of Faith and Works" reminds us of:
The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (those pertaining to our bodies)
1. Feed the hungry
2 Give drink to the thirsty
3. Clothe the naked
4. Shelter the homeless
5. Care for the sick
6. Visit the imprisoned
7. Bury the dead
The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy (those pertaining to our inner life)
1. Admonish the sinner
2. Instruct the ignorant
3. Counsel the doubtful
4. Comfort the sorrowful
5. Forgive injuries
6. Bear wrongs patiently
7. Pray for the living and the dead
A careful study of these works of mercy shows how completely cover every human need—both our physical and our spiritual needs. But there’s more.
We fall short of being able to accomplish these good works because of sin in our lives. The Church teaches that there are Seven Deadly Sins—deadly, because they can kill our relationship with God, and all other sins stem from these seven. They are pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Think about it. Can you imagine any destructive thing in your life that does not stem from one of these seven?
To counter these sins, the Church teaches the Seven Virtues. There are four Cardinal Virtues— wisdom, justice, courage and self-control. They are not specifically Christian virtues, but belong to all humans and were first identified by Plato. (There is a great scene in the movie Gladiator when the Emperor Marcus Aurelius tells his son that he will not succeed him as a ruler because he lacks these four virtues). Cardinal means “hinge”—and all other virtues stem from these four. We develop them by repeated practice in our lives.
To the four Cardinal Virtues, the Church has added three more called the Theological Virtues—Faith, Hope and Love. They are called “theological” because they are given to us by God. These are not “I have faith that the sun will come up tomorrow,” but rather “I have faith in the promises of God.” It is not “I hope to do well on my test,” but rather “I hope for heaven.” And it is not about “I love my puppy,” but rather “I love both God and man.” Only by the grace of God can we have the three theological virtues. They cannot be acquired by repetition. And by God’s grace, the four cardinal virtues are themselves raised to a higher level. So there they are—seven virtues to help us live the Christian life and overcome the Seven Deadly Sins.
To help us grow in these virtues, the Church teaches us that, at our Confirmation, the Holy Spirit confers on us the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, council, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. Four of the gifts guide our intellects and three of them direct our wills toward God. These seven gifts are the tools that we need to effectively proclaim the truths of the faith by word and deed.
The last “treasure of sevens” are the Seven Sacraments. In the article on the “Treasure of Grace,” I made the point that we are saved by grace alone. But how does this grace come to us? Well, certainly it comes to us through immersing ourselves in the Scriptures—hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the Word of God. And grace comes to us through our prayer life as well.
Read this next: The Treasure of Latin
But in establishing His church, Jesus also gave us seven conduits of grace to meet every need of our lives. Remember in the “Treasure of the Incarnation,” I spoke of how Jesus meets us in our material bodies. Jesus established each sacrament by attaching a physical object to His promises. Each sacrament is like a faucet. While the grace is always available, we must “turn the faucet on” by our response to God’s call. He then showers His grace upon us! There are three sacraments that draw us into His life of grace: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. There are two sacraments that heal us: spiritual healing through Confession and physical or emotional healing through the Anointing of the Sick. And lastly, there are two sacraments that strengthen us in our spiritual calling—those called to the priesthood or diaconate with the sacrament of Holy Orders, and those called to the married life with the sacrament of Marriage.
If you ever talk to people who have come into the Catholic Church, they all have different stories about how or why they became Catholic. But eventually, everyone will talk about the fullness or completeness of the grace and truth they have discovered in the Catholic Church.
I have discovered much of that fullness through the Treasure of Sevens.
Melanie Frei was an evangelical Protestant missionary to Hong Kong with her husband Tom, pastor and seminary professor. But when they studied Scripture and Church history, the two of them decided to leave their ministry and enter the Roman Catholic Church. Melanie is the mother of three incredible young adults and three awesome grandchildren and is also a substitute teacher in the Tomah Area School District. Her favorite ministries are leading Bible studies, music and pro-life work. For fun, Melanie is a total fan of BBC dramas and Regency romance.