Pride is one of the 7 deadly (capital/cardinal) sins and the sturdy platform upon which the others (wrath, greed, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony) are built. It is therefore considered the most dangerous sin. It is the opposite of the virtue of humility.
So, what is pride? It is self-love that places one above others. It is being really impressed… with yourself. St. Augustine said “it was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” St. John Climacus said “humility is the only thing that no devil can imitate.” (More Saint quotes: here.)
Pride is the most basic tool of the father of lies (Satan), expertly used to feed and build vanity. When we see ourselves through prideful eyes, we can not fully know our true self, others or God. We compete with God, not loving Him above all else and we can not love our neighbors as ourselves. In other words, pride directly opposes the two greatest commandments.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
I have been thinking a lot about pride lately. The more I look at it, the more it looks like an iceberg with just the tip visible. Superficially it seems much more benign than it truly is. It is very insidious in that way.
So, I want to understand it better… a sort of “know your enemy” thing. Part of my approach is to mentally review my thoughts and interactions to analyze what happened and how to improve. A play-by-play approach. This is a bit like a football team watching films of their last game. Why did I think that? What was my honest purpose in saying such and such? Did I realize that small accomplishment was a grace from God? Was I trying to elevate myself over another – or worse, trying to lower them? This has been helpful and I feel that it can lead to enduring improvement away from this sin (although avoiding it completely seems almost impossible to me).
Another part of my strategy is prayer. I ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding something then I listen. The response does not come immediately nor all at once, but it comes. For me, the best place is before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. Three things that I have learned about pride so far are:
- Pride is taking credit for that which is accomplished by God’s grace. Our achievements are through God’s gifts to us. He is the source, not us. We take a dim view of people who steal credit for someone else’s work. How much worse then is it when we steal from God?
- Pride is a black cloud which smothers the light of God in other people. We are all God’s greatest creation. Pride focuses our attention inward making us act as though God’s greatest creation is ourselves. In essence, we sever ourselves from the Body of Christ and thus can not love our neighbor (seen lesser) as ourselves (seen greater).
- Pride is putting yourself on a pedestal, from which you will surely fall. It is inevitable – and even positive. In the past I viewed such falls as embarrassments which is defined as “the shame you feel when your inadequacy or guilt is made public.” I have come to view these humbling moments as welcome and instructive blessings. It is interesting to me how this perspective replaces embarrassment.
He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”