March 9, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Wondering about the significance of seven

Shirley Vogler MeisterThrough an e-mail came a story that, whether true or not, needs to be shared.

It claims that a teacher asked students what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. The consensus was Egypt’s Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal in India, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica and China’s Great Wall.

One student could not finish the assignment, explaining that she couldn’t choose seven since there are so many. The teacher asked for her examples so the girl shared her seven wonders: to see, hear, touch, taste, feel, laugh and love.

Although on the wrong track, her response was profound. Although most of us are grateful for the human sensory functions she listed, we know they can be limited and transitory. Only love is permanent, even eternal.

Human errors, acts of war and environmental disasters can alter the world’s wonders, which are generally listed in nine categories, each with seven examples representing the ancient world, medieval world and modern world. To read the entire list, log on to

Why seven? According to the Dictionary of Symbols by J. Cirlot, seven symbolizes “perfect order, a complete period or cycle … the union of the ternary [three] and the quaternary [four] … the number that forms the basic series of musical notes, of colors and of the planetary spheres … and it corresponds to a three-dimensional cross,” which might explain why seven is also “the symbol of pain.”

The best known categories are the seven deadly sins, also known as capital sins, and their counterparts, the seven virtues, which are pride/humility, envy/charity, lust/chastity, anger/composure, gluttony/moderation, greed/generosity and sloth/zeal.

The seven traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists 12 gifts of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.

Of course, there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, penance, extreme unction (the sacrament of the sick), holy orders and matrimony.

Then there are the seven last words (actually sentences) spoken by Christ before dying on the cross. His first was “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

However, much earlier, Peter asked him, “How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Mt 18:21).

And Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but 70 times seven” (Mt 18:22).

These sevens are interesting, not mystical. Practically speaking, seven is simply “the cardinal number between six and eight,” according to Webster’s Dictionary.

Yet, it’s interesting to know that the six weeks of Lent almost reach seven if one counts the Sundays, which normally are not included.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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