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Pride and Humility, Vice and Virtue

February 17, AD2017

sad, sorrow, death, mourn

If you go to the website Brainy Quotes and do a search on “pride” you are apt to find more quotes lauding pride than those that disdain it. But the Bible is pretty clear about pride:

“Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be humble with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.” ~ Proverbs 16: 18-19

G.K. Chesterton even remarked, “If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.”

When you think of a prideful person, what image comes to mind? Someone all wrapped up in him or herself; constantly talking about how remarkable he or she is? Or that Facebook friend who’s endlessly bragging about himself or herself and posting selfies while attending different events, eating out in different restaurants, traveling to different cities, or maybe even standing next to somebody famous? Or maybe you picture rich celebrities who are always photographed at the most exclusive clubs, exuding an air of entitlement or expressing an attitude of “I’m better than you?”

While these can all be examples of prideful people, there’s one flaw in this mindset. Did you notice it? When we think about pride, we’ve usually got someone else in mind. But what if we turn our gaze inward and seriously look at ourselves?

Everyone has been given a unique set of gifts and talents and God certainly wants us to put them to good use. For many of us, when we’re using our gifts the way God intended, we feel a sense of exhilaration. We feel alive because we’re fulfilling a purpose, because we have found our place in the world. But it’s the moments that follow this exhilaration that matter most to God.

If we take those feelings of exhilaration and accomplishment and turn them inward, giving credit solely to ourselves, then we commit the sin of pride. However, if we look at what we accomplish and turn our gazes heavenward, thanking and praising Him, then God is very pleased with us.

Muhammad Ali, one of the most famous boxers of all time, developed the catch phrase “I am the greatest!” A popular anecdote over the years had Ali on an airplane being pressed by a stewardess to fasten his seatbelt before take-off. Ali replied “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” To which the stewardess retorted, “Superman don’t need no plane either.”

Whether or not this humorous exchange really took place, it does show how pride can blind us sometimes. Even to the point of serious injury or death.  In contrast to that, think the athlete who drops to his knees after a win, offering a prayer of thanks to God. While he may be tempted to make that success all about himself, he humbles himself in recognizing God’s hand in the accomplishment.

For every vice, there is a corresponding virtue. Whenever a person struggles with pride, he or she can overcome it by practicing humility. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; but it is thinking of yourself less.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines humility as:

“The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. Voluntary humility can be described as ‘poverty of spirit’.” (CCC 2559 and 2546)

What does a humble person look like? Who comes to mind? St. Teresa of Calcutta? Pope Francis? Maybe the brave firefighters who run into a burning building when everyone else is running out? Or the exhausted husband and father working two jobs to provide for his family? Or the volunteer who’s spent her last three summer vacations helping those living in the impoverished region of Nigeria?

Being humble is a great virtue to practice, especially in today’s society where there is so much focus on the individual. Everything, from the food we eat, to where and how we shop (even online), to the types of movies and TV shows we watch, and what we chat or post about on social media, is tailor-made to suit the needs of each person. So much of our culture is wrapped up in giving people limitless access to virtually everything.

Today, more than ever, anyone can become an overnight internet sensation. Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Lana Del Rey all got their start on YouTube, to name just a few. It’s easy today to become famous, and yet so many people feel empty once they’ve achieved celebrity status. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why so many of these young celebrities have meltdowns – they achieved success so quickly that they didn’t have time to develop the character to handle it.

It would be easy to sneer at them and think “typical of (add celebrity’s name here) to do something so foolish or reckless,” and then just go about our day. But as Christians we’re called to go a different way. Recently, I attended the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. While it was truly an exciting day (it was my first time), I was struck by what one of the speakers had to say.

In his speech, Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas said “Yes, I have not thought a lot about blowing up Madonna’s house. And the reason is because the Lord I follow commands me to love my enemies. Because I and many of us here are Jesus freaks — we follow the Lord of life. I would like you to join me right now in praying for Madonna. Madonna, Jesus loves you. And we’re going to pray that his love be revealed to you and everyone who was at the Women’s March.”

Expanding upon Mr. Metaxas’ remarks, I’d like to suggest praying for everyone who has allowed pride to cloud their thinking because chances are, at some point, we’ve been guilty of this as well. And then pray for humility.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Paul is happily married. Both he and his wife, Marjorie, reside on the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. They're eager first-time owners of a house. He is the Youth Ministry Leader for Fusion at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Abbottstown, PA, as well as an activities director at a nearby retirement community. Ever the creative type, Paul is an avid writer, actor, filmmaker, artist, and musician. He's also extremely passionate about his Catholic faith.

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