“I bought a brand new Vega in 1971. It kept stalling every time I stopped at a traffic light. The dealer couldn’t fix the problem, so I got my money back…” As this guy talked about several other things, I got the feeling that he was trying to make himself seem important, and that his stories weren’t true. After he left, my friend said to me, “This guy also tells people that he fought in Vietnam, but he’s too young to have fought there.”
Many years ago, I was dating a young woman. We were sitting in my car, having an intimate conversation. “What is your ambition in life?” I asked her. “I want to see my name in lights,” she replied.
A friend I had known for years was living alone. We were at his house and he was showing me the new kitchen he had installed. “I had everything imported from Germany. I couldn’t find American-made stuff that I thought was good enough. I spent $50,000 on the project. What do you think?” he asked. “But, you don’t even cook!” I answered.
Original sin, say the great teachers of our faith, is the sin of pride. It is the desire to put ourselves in the place of God. This sinful inclination is rooted deeply in our hearts and is very subtle. We are all infected with it and it manifests itself in many ways, yet we generally fail to see it in ourselves. St. Thomas Aquinas said that pride is the cause of all the other sins. Pride is the “Satanic sin” and the root of social discord.
A man turns to religion and tries to be holy. Immediately he stops using bad language, drinking alcohol, and visiting the strip club. He talks about God, attends church every week and gives money to charities. He is sure that he is going to heaven. He condemns all the sin in the world around him. “If only other people would be like me, how good the world would be,” he thinks. Part of him envies the pagans who still indulge in carnal sin, but he consoles himself by thinking, “What a pity, they will be punished forever by God.”
Pride – the desire to feel superior – wears many masks. It hides itself, even under the cloak of humility. But it is always present, poisoning our relationships and bringing unhappiness into our lives. Pride wages a ceaseless battle against our souls by pretending to be our greatest ally. The religious man may, through great effort, overcome all the “sins of the flesh,” yet pride remains, ready to condemn that man to hell.
To root out pride takes more than human effort. It takes supernatural power. “Show me O Lord, the ugliness of my inordinate self-love. May I be humiliated and insulted all the days of my life, rather than die with a prideful heart. Teach me to overlook any goodness in myself, and to admire the tiniest good in my neighbour. Let me be proud of one thing only, that you O Lord have overcome the evil one so that I might live. Amen.”