Pride – A Deadly Sin

Beloved in Jesus Christ,
In 1863 during the Civil War, Union and Confederate armies converged on Chancellorville, Virginia. The Union Army was led by General Joseph Hooker. General Hooker had a reputation: he was proud, he was a braggart and a profane drinker with a temper; a godless man. As his army prepared for the battle, Hooker began to brag about how he would beat General Lee. ‘Let God have mercy on them, he said, for I will have no mercy. Then he made a statement which sent a shiver through the room: he pointed toward heaven and said: ‘Even Almighty God could not stop me from winning the victory tomorrow.’ That night, Officer (Winfield) Hancock, wrote a letter to his wife; he said: ‘how can we expect to win when we are under a commander who utters such blasphemy. General Hooker went to bed confident, but early in the morning he would receive the surprise of his life: General Lee attacked, catching him totally off guard. Hooker was stunned. he became paralyzed with fear and indecision, and nearly a whole day passed before he even came out of his tent to lead the battle. But it was too late; the southerners had pulled off one of the most spectacular flanking movements in history. It was a humiliating defeat. Hooker was immediately fired by President Lincoln; his pride had ended his career in total disgrace.
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‘Whoever humbles himself with be exalted, says the Lord, and whoever exalts himself will be humbled.
Today we speak about the sin of Pride. Pride is one of the 7 Deadly Sins. Pride seems to have built into it, its own punishment. As scripture says, ‘Pride comes before the fall, and when pride comes, disgrace follows. Pride is the greatest danger to the soul. It is the sin of Lucifer, who said ‘I will not serve God.’ Pride was the sin of Adam and Eve who wanted to decide for themselves what is right and wrong; It is pride which causes some scholars to think they are above the teachings of the Church. ‘Professing themselves to be wise, they have become fools,’ says St. Paul. Pride is the self love that makes us think we are better than others.
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Pride makes us seek our own glory apart from the glory of God; we see ourselves as the center of the universe and the judge of all morality. Pride wants to have its own way, and to control and dominate and manipulate. In the gospel today, we see the danger of those who wish to put themselves in the important place; it is very easy to look down on others, or to focus on the faults of others, so as to feel superior. In his book the Screwtape letters, C.S. Lewis shows how the devil wants us to pray for another person: the devil wants us, during our prayers, to list all the faults of the other person. ‘O Lord, help my friend who is arrogant; help my boss who is vain; help my brother who is a complainer’ – this is the goal of the devils: to keep our neighbor’s faults always in our mind, and to neutralize our own prayers, so that they aren’t even prayers at all. Pride is very sneaky. The more intelligent a person is, the more carefully their pride is concealed. Those who are very smart, will never fall into pride which is easily noticed, rather, their pride is subtle; it thrives – on clever words, certain tones of voice, and the manipulation of others. If we look closely, we will find some pride lurking in our hearts, often cleverly disguised.
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As Father Bill Casey likes to say, if we think back on our life, we will see that our worst moments, our biggest failures, our most embarrassing falls, our bad behavior, the broken relationships – can usually be traced back to our foolish, foolish pride. Pride is the great destroyer of marriages, the barrier to holiness, the obstacle to confession, and the source of endless self deception as well as vanity. Pride leads to anger, it is an open door to the devil, the gateway to hell, and always a disaster in the making. Actions done out of pride lead to no good, and bring shame and regret. You know, after we’ve messed everything up because of our pride, so many times we say, ‘Oh Lord, I have messed up everything. It is my pride again.’
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So how can we be cured? – Our pride can be conquered, only by humility. What is humility? St. Teresa of Avila says: humility is the virtue by which we have a correct opinion of ourselves and we see ourselves as God sees us. Humility is to see the truth of who and what we are before God. It reminds us that every good thing we have, every blessing and talent that we have, comes from God and not from ourselves. I love those athletes who point to heaven after a touchdown or a home run. Any good that we do, we should attribute to God and his blessings. In an old theology book, I saw a picture of two trees. One tree was ugly and the fruit on it was rotten sins: hate, envy, lust, arrogance. The other tree was beautiful, and its fruit was kindness, compassion, gentleness, gratitude, and charity. The roots of the ugly tree were in a soil by the name of – Pride. And the roots of the beautiful tree with all the virtues were in soil called – Humility.
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Some people think that humility is to be very timid, or to put oneself down, or to have no initiative, but this is false humility. Some people, when asked to accept some responsibility say: ‘O, I’m not worthy of such a task.’ They think they are being humble, but often it is false humility concealing their cowardice or laziness. The humble person does not make himself the center of attention, or act like a know-it-all; the person who thinks they know-it-all never learns anything; but the humble person listens to what others have to say. A humble man can become very great, because he is willing to learn, and he is not afraid of making some mistakes or of what others will think. But pride shows itself in fear of failure, putting on sadness or faking illness to attract attention – fear of being under-appreciated, imagined insults, oversensitivity. —–
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Sometimes we see the sins and failings of another person. We can be tempted to think that we are very superior. But if we think that our neighbor is nothing – that he is nothing more than a worthless cockroach in this world – then how God must laugh at us, because if our neighbor is a cockroach, then we are an ant, and how foolish is the insect who thinks he is something. Before the Greatness of Almighty God, we little human beings are really very much like each other. I often think that on the day of judgment, we may find ourself hanging desperately at the edge of heaven, slipping down toward hell by the weight of our sins. We cry out for help, and then a face appears above, to help us. And it is the face, of that person in life whom we had looked down upon: a neighbor, a spouse, the person whom we had considered a fool. And it is that person who offers his hand to us, to help me up and save me and embrace me. Then indeed would be that love, that Christ has wanted from us all along.
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Some people will say that they are Catholics even though they are full of pride; maybe they are Catholics, but I don’t think they can be children of Mary. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin has a way of melting away self-love and pride. It is said that when the Son of God looked over the earth to find where he would be born, it was the sweet humility of Mary that drew him down from heaven. Mary, pray for us, to be more humble, that our actions and attitudes will show forth a beautiful humble life. 

[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas]

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