December 5, 2010


In my experience of trying, or at least desiring to live a spiritual life, it has been my experience that pride is among the sneakiest and most insidious of the passions. Not that this is anything new; as John Cassian--my great teacher--writes, "There is no other vice, then, which so reduces to naught every virtue and so despoils and impoverishes a human being of all righteousness and holiness as does the evil of pride."

Today I was reflecting on an example from my own experience. It was a Sunday after Mass. I thought I had said an attentive and devout Mass, sung well, and preached a homily both entertaining and illuminating. I had a wonderful feeling of having found my niche in the world and gratitude to God for having got me where I was meant to be. People told me it was one of the best homilies that they had ever heard.

Then one man came up to me and pointed out how I had missed an obvious and homiletically useful point. He made me realize that my homily had been clever, but had not really engaged the Scripture. Through this man's little bit of advice, God had accomplished in me a twofold humiliation of my intellectual pride; not only did it cut through my self-congratulation at my preaching, but pointed out that my own cleverness had interfered with my preparation and made shallow my own prayer through the Sunday readings.

As I made my prayer of thanksgiving after greeting the people, I thanked God for the grace of the humiliation and correction, and prayed for the willingness to surrender to true humility.

Then came the next and even more insidious temptation, a thought rising as one of the logismoi if there ever was one: "Wow, I have accepted this humiliation of intellectual pride pretty easily. It feels good to be able to let go of myself so easily. I must be more spiritually advanced than I thought!"

Pride does not give up so easily. Such is the insidiousness of the worst of the passions.


Greg said...

Fascinating post.

I can feel twisting and turning of the serpent of pride within myself as I read your notes...the serpent slithers so agilely away from traps set to ensnare it.

The Catch-22 is real. We turn from pride to humility and then we become prideful over how humble we can be.

Sends me on a speculative tangent, wondering where the dilemma ends.

Seems the opposite of pride may not be humility as much as an ability to simply be there, resting in God, attentive to his will, not needing anything else...thus nothing more to attain or lose, no need to assess one's standing.

Now if I could just get there I would be at the pinnacle, at the top, holy, a saint, very near

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

This is a very helpful sharing, Father, and I imagine it was not easy to share. When does self-esteem (psychologists insist that we need good self-esteem for balance and mental health) become pride, and when does pride in workmanship (which we are also encouraged to have as part of our Protestant work ethic) become hubris? It is all so very difficult to understand, let alone allowing the transformation in ourselves that would lead us not only to knowledge but more important to enactment/assimilation. Every time someone comments on my humility, I feel embarrassed: I know that they are wrong because they see only my behavior, not my thoughts and emotions.

pennyante said...

You are not alone...

Anonymous said...

If pride were a mouse trap and I was the mouse, all I can say is that I would not be in this world for very long.

Anonymous said...

In our Rule Augustine writes, "Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them." This is often my greatest downfall, that when I do something good, even if beginning it with good intentions, pride comes in to destroy the good's opportunity to form the habit of virtue.

I think too that often times pride can mask itself as humility, as if we must deny that something was good, or done well, and no matter how little we believe it, say that it was poorly executed or whatever. In one of Merton's conferences to his novices he said something to the effect of, "We don't need to go around saying, 'Oh, I am the greatest wretch that there is! No one is more wretched than me!' as if it were some sort of competition. I mean, in some cases it might be true, but that doesn't mean you have to go around telling everyone." This is another form of pride into which I can often fall, and perhaps this is the biggest obstacle to my own spiritual growth, since it is so difficult to detect.