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10-NUMBER-7

What is it that makes the lucky number seven so magical?

By Fr Ronald Rolheiser

From the Bible to casinos, seven is often considered to be a magical, perfect, and lucky number. Jesus told us to forgive those who hurt us 70 times seven times. Clearly he meant that to mean infinity. Genesis speaks of the seven days of creation, scripture speaks of seven archangels, and the Book of Revelation speaks of the Seven Seals of Revelation. The Bible is saturated with the number seven. It would take several pages just to list the references.

What is true for the Christian bible is paralleled elsewhere: There are seven lucky gods of good fortune in Japanese mythology, and the Buddhists believe that Buddha walked seven steps at his birth. In Judaism, there are seven days of mourning, the weekly Torah is divided into seven special sections, there are seven blessings recited at a Jewish wedding, the Jewish bride and groom are feted for seven days, and there are seven primary emotions attributed to God. In the Islamic tradition, there are seven heavens and seven earths, seven fires in hell, seven doors to heaven, and seven doors to hell.

And then there are these facts connected to the number seven: There are seven continents in the world, seven colours to the rainbow, seven days in a week, seven basic musical notes, seven stars in the Big Dipper, and seven celestial bodies visible to the naked eye. Seven is the calling code for telephones in Russia. In North America, major-leagues baseball, basketball, and hockey all decide their final championships through a seven-game series, and seven is the jersey number chosen by many elite athletes, including Mickey Mantle. Casinos too like the number seven. Lining up a row of sevens is the route to many a jackpot.

Jesus, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, nature, the measurement of our weeks, Russian telephone codes, major league sports, Mickey Mantle, and casinos—now that’s an audience! It’s no accident that there are lots of lists of ‘sevens.’

For example: we have all kinds of theological and church-lists of seven:

Christian theology speaks of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Council, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. Of Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth (Acedia), Greed, Gluttony, and Lust; and of Seven Corresponding Heavenly Virtues: Humility, Kindness, Patience, Diligence, Charity, Temperance, and Chastity. It also speaks of the Seven Last Words of Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”; “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise;” “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit;” “Woman, this is your son … This is your mother;” “My God, my God, why have you forsake me?” “I thirst;” “It is finished.”

Mohandas Gandhi spoke of Seven Social Sins: Politics without principle, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice. To this, Catholics have added Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching: The life and dignity of the human person; the call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God’s creation.

Catholics have Seven Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, healing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead. Moreover, Catholics venerate the Seven Sorrows of Mary: The prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus in the temple, meeting Jesus on the way of Calvary, Jesus dying on the cross, receiving the body of Jesus in her arms, placing the body of Jesus into the tomb.

And of course, not least, we have the famous Seven Wonders of the World, though now there are arguments as to what precisely constitutes that list: Some argue for the original list, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, others propose The Seven Wonders of the Modern World, some speak of The Seven Wonders of the Contemporary World, and still others affirm that the real wonders of this world are constructed by nature and they list instead The Seven Natural Wonders of this World.

So what’s the true list? What, in fact, constitutes the Seven Wonders of the World?

Recently this story appeared on the internet: A teacher asked her students to name The Seven Wonders of the World. A number of students, with the help no doubt of electronic gadgets, quickly produced the various lists. One young girl, however, without any electronic research, produced her own list. The Seven Wonders of the World, she submitted, are: seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, touching, breathing, and loving. That list, I believe, trumps all other lists and includes all the Sacraments.

—Fr Ronald Rolheiser is a Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Visit his website at www.ronrolheiser.com

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