Friday, June 21, 2002

As I was writing about the Cardinal Virtues a few weeks ago, I wrote that Courage is the virtue without which the other virtues cannot exist. In this sense, there really is only one “cardinal” (or “hinge”) viture.

In a similar way. there really is only one sin: Pride.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” goes the Proverb (16:18), and it is certainly true. Every single sin I commit is, in the end, about my Pride.

Let’s start, though, by distinguishing Pride from some other things. Pride is not vanity, Taking pleasure in praise is a sign, albeit a weak one, that you still depend on the “other.” A person totally consumed by Pride cares not a whit for the opinion of others. The Sin of Pride is also not the kind of pride a father takes in a son’s accomplishments. Affection and a stirring of heart at the talents of a child also continue to depend on the other, and take one somewhat out of the self. This can lead to a sinful pride, when the son becomes a mere factotum for the father’s abilities, but it need not and does not always lead that way.

The sinful kind of Pride is the kind that places oneself above others, even—especially—God. It is precisely this that CS Lewis wrote of when he said there are in the end only two kinds of people: “those who say to God ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom in the end God says ‘thy will be done.’”

Pride says that I, the Self, am the most important thing. It says that whatever I accomplish, I accomplish, by my own power and my own lights. It denies the “Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship on the Holy Spirit” in the most essential way, by insisting that the grace, love and fellowship were unnecessary. “Thanks, guys, for the offer, but I’ve already taken care of it.”

The eradication of Pride does not, however, come from the destruction or even the despising of the self. The answer comes, as always, in being Christ-like. Christ, the third person of the Trinity, was lowered Infinitely, from Creator to creature.

When we say in the Mass that “He humbled himself” we should pause and reflect on that, like we do during the Passion. There should really come a moment where everyone stops, kneels, and thinks about that very idea in several minutes of silence, for there is no more shocking thing in all of human history. God, all-powerful and all-knowing, the Infinite Creator of every single thing became a finite, frail, pathetic human being. For 33 years, God couldn’t go more than a few days without sleep, two or three weeks without food, and 3 days without water. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate” by being whipped and paraded through the streets of Jerusalem with a tree strapped to his back, and he was nailed through flesh, bone and nerve to that tree and left to suffocate and drown on it.

Go back and read that last paragraph again, and then ask Andrew Sullivan how his travails of trying to be fulfilled as a human being compare. Ask Cardinals Law and Mahony about the image of the Church. Ask the women who practice illicit “masses” in secret about the problems of women in the Church. Ask the priests who promise celibacy but take up with women and men in secret how chastity compares to that.

Or, come ask me in my comfortable middle class apartment and my little Kairos website about any of the hundreds of complaints and imprecations about life being “unfair to me” that I utter every day. But arrive early, because the line of people who can justly claim to have been treated as less than me by me is going to be pretty long.

It is easy, at a moment like this, to become filled with self-loathing, but that is the wrong response—it still, after all makes a totem of the self. The answer, easy to write but hard to do, is to view your own self in exactly the same way you view others: to become humble. Take the same pleasure in watching another member of the team make a great play as you do when you make it. Don’t think, “When he did that it was remarkable, but pathetic when I did.” Think, “Isn’t it remarkable that God made people such that some can do amazing things on the ballfield!” whomever makes the play.

Be unmindful of yourself as self. And when that fails, be mindful of the humor of yourself. If you find yourself getting proud of your humility, laugh it off, and pray for the Grace to do better next time. Don’t laugh it off in the sense of thinking it unimportant. But recognize that our capacity for absurdity is very great, and that the Devil will take any and every opportunity to induce pride however possible. And to mock the Devil is to offend his pride.


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