Pride and Humility

Pride.  St. Thomas Aquinas called pride, which is inordinate self-love, the root of all sin.  Pick any sin and you can trace it back to a desire to do things one’s own way.  Simply put, pride is an unwillingness to acknowledge one’s proper place in God’s creation and relationship with Him.  It can take many forms: perfectionism, where one is caught up in one’s own work to prove one’s self, rather than simply working for the glory of God; a desire to control every aspect of one’s life and even the lives of those around them; exaggerated self-sufficiency disguising selfishness; anger and criticism of others; impatience, rudeness, resorting to insincerity or lying to cover up mistakes.  The list goes on.

A few weeks ago, I realized I’d fallen into a couple old habits that I know to be ultimately rooted in pride.  In the confessional, the priest asked me, “If you could ask God to help you focus on developing one thing, what would it be?”  Out came the word – humility.  The priest chuckled and responded wryly, “Be careful what you ask for.  To receive humility, you must be humbled.”  Deep breath.  I know.

Since then, true to His word, God has given me ample opportunity to grow in this needed virtue.  Humility does not mean becoming a person who sits in a corner and is a doormat to others.  Humility is simply the virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond oneself.  It keeps a person from desiring personal greatness and instead enables him or her to recognize their complete dependence on God.  When we are humble, we are able to recognize all people, including ourselves, as beings fearfully and wonderfully made, and we are equally likely to give God thanks for the goods and talents He gives our neighbors, as well as ourselves.

holy-innocents-le-massacre-des-innocents-francois-joseph-navezToday, we have opportunity to continue to reflect on the gift of Jesus at Christmas, and the pride and cruelty of one man who ordered the slaughter of so many baby boys in Bethlehem.  Herod’s pride had escalated to such a point that he was a man who would stop at nothing to have his way and would kill anyone he viewed as a threat to the power he wielded, whether members of his own family or innocent children. 

We see this same pride and arrogance today in rulers and government leaders who would claim they are responsible for granting human rights to others, when really certain human rights are endowed by our Creator.  We see this same pride in a culture that would sacrifice its innocent young through abortion and is willing to push the elderly and weak into a “death with dignity.”  We see this same pride when we judge and look down on others or try to do things “my way” instead of asking God for direction according to His will.  Pride unchecked leads to death and destruction. 

But from humility springs life and renewal and love.  Jesus encouraged his disciples and us, to become meek and humble of heart, like little children.  It is painful to have our faults pointed out to us; no one likes to be corrected.  But graciously accepted the correction of God and others is, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, the “virtuous use of humiliations as a medicine.”  Only by growing in this self-knowledge through humiliation may we live in a true relationship with God and others.  And it is in truth that we are set free. 

May we be grateful to God for the gifts He gives and the humiliations He allows, that we might one day rejoice in heaven with all the saints and Holy Innocents.

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