11 April 2011

Pride, the Leader of the Devil's Army

I am very pleased to post today the final installment of the excellent sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins given this Lent by the Canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest at St. Francis de Sales Oratory.  This sermon on Pride was delivered yesterday by the Oratory's Rector, Canon Michael Wiener:



“The leader of the devil’s army is pride, whose progeny are the seven principal vices”, teaches St. Gregory the Great. And the wise author of the book Ecclesiastes simply says:

“Pride is the origin of all sin” (Eccl. 10, 15).

The first sin of the first man was a sin of pride. St. Thomas examines this point very carefully:

“Now man was so appointed in the state of innocence, that there was no rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. … It remains therefore that the first inordinateness of the human appetite resulted from his coveting inordinately some spiritual good. Now he would not have coveted it inordinately, by desiring it according to his measure as established by the Divine rule. Hence it follows that man's first sin consisted in his coveting some spiritual good above his measure: and this pertains to pride. …” (IIa IIae 163, a. 1)

Pride is the excessive love of one's own excellence. Our first parents had the desire of the knowledge of good and evil, reserved to God alone, the desire to be like God, to be their own guides and without obligation to obey – that is the first sin of pride which comes to us all as our unhappy inheritance.

In other sins the aversion from God and His commandments is a consequence, for example of anger, of greed or gluttony - in the sin of pride this aversion from God is its very nature.

“And since that which belongs to a thing by its nature, says St. Thomas, is always of greater weight than that which belongs to it through something else, it follows that pride is the most grievous of sins by its genus, because it exceeds in aversion which is the formal complement of sin.”

There are different degrees of pride. The prideful man regards himself explicitly or implicitly as his own first principle or his own last end. Of course, it is rare that somebody considers himself explicitly as his last end or first cause, nobody wants to be caught with this degree of stupid, simple-minded arrogance.

But it is not rare at all that somebody considers himself implicitly as the first cause or last end of his life. We clearly recognize in theory that God is our first principle, that He alone is all powerful and that we owe Him obedience. But in practice?

In practice, that is, in our actions, we hold ourselves in high esteem, as though we were the source of what is good and praiseworthy in us.

In practice we consider the gifts of God in us as somehow merited and owed to us by God.

In practice we don’t always want to see what we really are and what we are not yet and will never be, but we attribute gifts to us which we do not have.

In practice we look down on others, considering all that we have received really superior to the gifts of others.

A specific intellectual pride moves some to reject the traditional interpretation of the content of faith, to change dogmas in order to make them more acceptable. Pride leads others to maintain a personal attachment to their own judgment and private opinions which are making them incapable even to listen to reasonable arguments.

“If a man is full of himself, how will he receive the superior gifts which the Lord could and would grant him in order that he might do great good to souls and save them?”

Pride is our mind-set, the frame of mind of fallen man. Nobody is exempt from it. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to acquire the opposite virtue, humility. And we are not excused by looking at the institutionalized pride of modern society and political life where natural law and moral teachings of the Church are simply ignored or even despised.

Although it may be difficult for us to face with honesty the core and chief reason of our being prideful – if we pray to Our Lord fervently He will enlighten us and take away the veil from our heart.

If we pray for light and guidance we will receive help. God is merciful and wants our salvation: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.”

What are the remedies against pride? What will help us to make a continuous effort to overcome what is prideful in us and to cultivate the opposed virtue of humility?

It is necessary to employ our God given faculties and to acknowledge that God alone is the author of all good and that therefore to Him belong all honor and glory.

As consequence, we must try to exercise continuously the virtue of humility in our daily life.

But caution! There is big danger in telling ourselves constantly that we are “big sinners” and that “we are nothing” and in “trying to be especially humble”: These efforts, as honest and sincere they might be, are easily affected and even corrupted by – pride. Someone who talks all the time about humility, categorizes others as being “very humble” or “not humble at all” as well as about his own efforts to be humble might lack humility more than someone who simply accepts the daily humiliations God sends us. God humbles us every day – and He can do it effectively if we accept these humiliations generously.

The greatest remedy against pride, however, is to contemplate the humility of Christ: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.”

The humility of Christ is the perfect humility of the humanity of Christ that was never in contact with the fallen nature of man. Born from the immaculate womb of the Blessed Virgin and hypostatically united with the divine nature, the human nature became the instrument of our salvation. In the Passion of Christ we witness not only a powerful moral example, but more importantly an effective source of our regeneration.

The Roman liturgy brings to us all the fruits of the Passion of Christ in the two weeks ahead of us – and it opens to us the real source of our salvation. When the Passion of Christ is unfolded before our eyes, we are again witnesses of the events that led to our rebirth in baptism. Coming closer to Christ suffering leads us even to the close-up-look on Christ in Holy Week, entering Jerusalem for the last time, instituting the Eucharist and the Priesthood, dying on the Cross for us and breaking the seal of death in His glorious resurrection. There we find all guidance and all strength to take up the Cross again and again and to ask Our Lord to give us a share in the treasures of His Sacred Heart, the “Propitiation for our sins”.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these wonderful sermons. I have gotten a lot out of them all.

Jerry said...

A wonderful sermon, and a great way to end the series. I hope for similar expanded expositions of topics in the future!