We’re number one! We’re number one.” What sports fan doesn’t enjoy shouting this phrase? To be number one, to be in first place, to be a champion, is to have no equal. To show their team pride, fans don caps, jerseys, sweatshirts and anything they can find bearing their favorite team’s logo.
Pride. It doesn’t sound so bad. So then, how can it be one of the Seven Deadly Sins?
The fact is, we all take pride in many things: our homes, our families, our ethnicity — even our personal appearance. Unlike the other deadly sins, pride seems to have a good side. Perhaps that is what makes it so deadly: the fact that we can be easily lulled into thinking that we are exercising a healthy trait when in fact we are damaging our relationship with God and others.
Pride’s subtlety is precisely what makes it so dangerous to our spiritual well-being.
Excessive pride leads us to conclude that we have no equal. Pride isolates us and focuses our attention on ourselves and our own accomplishments, blinding us to the fact that all we are and all we have is a gift from God.
Pride makes stewardship impossible. To be a good steward is to recognize that all good gifts are a result of God’s generosity. The spiritual life is not about what we are doing but about what God is doing in our lives. When our attention is focused on ourselves and our own accomplishments, we become unable to see God’s grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. Instead of seeing others as our neighbors, we view them as competitors or worse yet, as obstacles.
When love of neighbor is absent, love of God is not possible. To combat the sin of pride, the Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages us to look upon our neighbors as “another self” (No. 1931), something that is impossible to do if we feel we have no equal.
Warnings from Paul
St. Paul warned about the dangers of pride. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, he says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21). Earlier, in that same letter, Paul warns of the dangers of boasting, an act fueled by pride: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7)
So, if pride is a poison, what is the antidote? Humility.
Humility is not something that we see a lot of these days. Rather, we see athletes, politicians and celebrities doing all they can to draw attention to themselves and their own accomplishments.
Humility is too often seen as a weakness. How unfortunate, because humility is the recognition of power that lies beyond oneself. To be humble is to recognize that, although we cannot sustain ourselves, we are sustained by the greatest power in the universe — the power of a loving God.
For examples of humility, we need look no further than Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. While drawing great crowds and great attention, Jesus humbly deflected all honor and glory to the Father.
In one of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament, Paul eloquently describes the humility of Jesus:
“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
“Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11)
Where did Jesus learn such humility? From his mother, Mary. When she learned that she was chosen to become the mother of God’s own Son, Mary drew attention, not to herself, but to God:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:46-49).
Humility is not about self-loathing. It is about gratitude — a thankfulness that the Lord of the universe has seen fit to share his great goodness so generously with us. Pride leads us to boast in ourselves. Paul teaches us that humility leads us to boast in God.
“Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” For it is not the man who commends himself that is accepted, but the man whom the Lord commends (2 Cor 10:17- 18).
This is the second installment in a series exploring the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Paprocki is author of “A Well-Built Faith: A Catholic’s Guide to Knowing and Sharing What We Believe” (Loyola Press).