“Well, Father,” I was asked, “what’s wrong with being proud of yourself? Aren’t we supposed to have some pride? Why are we supposed to be humble – what good does it do other than to allow others to take advantage of us?”
That’s a good question, one that we should consider.
Balancing pride and humility is a problem for us all. My answer to the question about being proud is: “It all depends.” It all depends upon what we’re being proud about. There are forms of pride that are good… and there are certainly forms of pride that are bad.
Let’s start with good pride.
We should have enough pride to render good quality our workmanship. We should do things well and be properly proud of that quality of the product of our craftsmanship. We should be honorable, a quality lacking in today’s world. We should render an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s wage and be proud of it. We should care for our employees and workers and be proud that we care for them.
If we have musical or artistic talents we should openly share them with others and not have a false humility that causes us to withhold what we can create for others. Hiding our light under a bushel does not give honor and glory to God, to our heavenly Father who gave us our talents so that we might brighten and build up the lives of those around us.
So, to be honest, there are forms of pride that are healthy and beneficial not only to ourselves but to others as well.
Then there are forms of pride that are bad. They cut us off from others and isolate us. There is a kind of pride that comes from the delusion that tells us we’re totally self-sufficient. Satan tempted Adam and Eve by telling them that if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would be like God, that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. In other words they could make their own reality.
We are deluded if we think we can handle everything and that we don’t need anyone else’s help. We disguise it by saying, “my problems are my problems – they’re no one else’s business. I can take care of my own problems.”
For instance I’ve heard some people proclaim that they’re not alcoholic. For them an alcoholic is a drunken bum, living in filth in the gutter, drinking booze from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag. In their deluded pride alcoholics say, “Thank God I’m not one of them!”
The truth is that judges are alcoholics, doctors are alcoholics, airline pilots are alcoholics… and, yes, even some priests are alcoholics. For many years pride keeps them from admitting that fact. Pride prevents them from acquiring the necessary humility to let others help bring it under control. Furthermore, alcoholism is a disease, and like diabetes for instance, it’s with you until you die. But so is epilepsy, and so it is with any number of other diseases. They will always be with us and we have to have set aside our prideful claim that we only have a “problem” with our diseases and can control them and take care of them all by our selves.
Pride keeps people in a world of denial. They think that while they may perhaps have a problem it’s only a minor problem. The truth is that many others suffer from their problem. “I may drink too much once in a while”, alcoholics claim, “but it’s not hurting anyone.’ All the while their spouse and their children are suffering as the alcoholic rages on in the way he or she treats all who have to live with an alcoholic or work with that drinker.
Pride in anyone’s soul brings with it denial, rationalization, and living a lie. Pride brings us into the hell of living in isolation.
Then there are horrible problem marriages. Pride rears its ugly head again, and I hear it said: “Well, I don’t need any counseling help. Counselors don’t know what they’re talking about. I can take care of my own problems – I don’t need anyone else’s help.”
So in this parable of Jesus (Luke 14:1, 7-14), Jesus isn’t merely talking about nice table manners. No. He’s talking about the way you and I live our lives. He’s talking about the way we treat our selves, others, and God.
Pride keeps folks away from going to confession. They just can’t bring themselves to admit to a priest the nature of their sins. Too proud and too arrogant they say to themselves “I can confess to God without needing to go to a priest.” Such people are delusional – they end up striking their own bargains with God, setting their own terms for His forgiveness, deciding for themselves that they can take care of sin their own way. No help needed from you, Father.
If that’s so, then why did Jesus say to His first priests, the apostles, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When Jesus rose from the dead His first words to His apostles were “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Are these words of Jesus not to be taken seriously? Was He wasting His time in speaking to us about our prideful denials – or did He have something to say to us that He wanted us to take seriously?
Going to confession requires humility. Pride has to be put down. Prideful refusal to confess our sins blocks God’s graces from entering into us through the Sacrament of Penance.
And pride affects our relationships with those around us. Living prideful and self-centered life brings me into a hell on earth in which my ego pushes God aside and causes me to dominate, manipulate, rule and control others. Pride, we must always remember, was Lucifer’s downfall.
Pride is the root cause of all sin. Perhaps that’s why Jesus spent so much time pointing it out to us and calling us to humbly deal with it under God’s power, under God’s terms. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just talk about it…He lived life humbly and died in humiliation that we might receive the power that humility gives us in order that our own lives and the lives of those around us can be a whole lot better, better because God is in charge and our egos are not.