Giving up Pride for Lent
This is Day 13 of my 40 day Lenten Blog.
It is customary for Christians to give up something for Lent, to forgo something that we enjoy for 40 days. Perhaps it is sweets, or Facebook, or whatever. This year I am attempting to give up pride for Lent.
"Pride is the beginning of sin," Saint Augustine wrote in City of God. This is so because all other sins stem from pride. I am greedy because of my pride. I am jealous because of my pride. I am wrathful because my pride. I am lustful because of my pride.
Evil entered God's perfect creation when the devil's pride sought to exalt him to the level of God. Evil entered this world when the pride of Adam and Eve caused them to seek to be like God. Pride is the root of all evil. Therefore, Saint Augustine tells us that "no one reaches the kingdom of Heaven except by humility."
Humility is the virtue that counters the sin of pride. "When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble there is wisdom." (Prov. 11:3). Thus, it is through humility that we may defeat our pride.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Fighting against one's pride can be a frustrating and seemingly futile struggle. I have been battling my pride for years, but just when I think I am making headway, I pridefully rejoice in the abundance of my humility!
Thus, I was delighted to receive as a gift this past Christmas the classic work on the subject, Humility of Heart, by Father Cajetan Mary da Bergamo and translated into English by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn. Father Cajetan was an 18th century Italian missionary. In his introduction to the English translation, Cardinal Vaughn wrote that Father Cajetan "was one of the reformers of the Italian pulpit, substituting for the vapid, empty rhetoric which prevailed, a solid, learned and instructive style, animated by zeal and real devotion." And Pope Benedict XIV said that the writings of Father Cajetan "satisfy the intellect and the heart." I certainly found this to be true when reading Humility of Heart.
Father Cajetan wrote his "thoughts and sentiments on humility" as one struggling with pride himself, which made me feel better about my own shortcomings. But I quickly realized if this pious and devoted priest was full of pride, how much more so am I? This was a fortunate realization in my battle with pride, for as Father wrote, "he who thinks himself humble is no longer so."
As Humility of Heart points out, we are often tempted to compare our own virtue with that of the worldly and wicked and say, "look how virtuous and humble I am." "But in order to show ourselves as we really are, it is not with worldly-minded people that we ought to compare ourselves, but with Jesus Christ." For it is Christ, "who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." (Phil. 2:6-8).
The Roman punishment of crucifixion was designed not only to hurt and kill, but perhaps more importantly, to humiliate. After all, there are many who would gladly go to an honorable and glorious death--perhaps a death bravely fighting the Roman occupiers. But no one wishes to die a humiliating death, jeered by the crowd, spat upon, stripped naked and hung up on a cross for all the world to see one's defeat, failure, and punishment as one dies a slow, painful death while his enemies mock him.
Yet, this humiliation is the exact death that Jesus willingly accepted. God incarnate, through Whom all things were made, humbled Himself so low, that He was tortured, mocked, and killed by the very men He had created and whom He had come to save.
Imagine the amount of humility it took to allow His own creatures to cruelly mock Him by forcing a crown of thorns down upon His head where a crown of gold was not even worthy enough to be placed. And then, for the soldiers to kneel to Him in mockery, hit him, spit on Him, and make a farce of His kingship--that is greater humiliation than any human has ever endured. Yet Christ allowed it to happen to Himself.
Father Cajetan tells us that we, like Christ, must accept humiliation if we wish to destroy our pride. But "it is not the humiliation nor suffering alone which makes the soul humble, but the interior act by which this same humiliation is accepted and received through motives of Christian humility and especially of a desire to resemble Jesus Christ." In other words, we must accept humiliation for the purposes of becoming more like our Lord. And then we should say to God, in the words of Saint Bernard: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me."
Pride comes from a heart filled with self-love according to Father Cajetan. It comes from a desire to do our own will, rather than the will of God. Self-love would have caused Jesus to call forth twelve legions of angels to defend Him from His enemies. But Jesus chose to love us more than His own flesh. Jesus chose to be obedient to His Father unto death.
I, on the other hand, more often than not choose to love myself more than others and to do my own will rather than God's. This is pride. Therefore, to give up pride for Lent, I must be willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of others and to do the will of God, especially when it runs counter to my own.
I must put everyone before myself. I must refuse to allow myself to be offended. Instead, I should look upon the one offering offense as my superior and should be grateful that he or she has pointed out my flaws. I should never be judgmental or self-righteous, but instead, when I look upon the sins of others, I should realize that my sins are even worse, my heart even darker.
I must never think myself better than anyone, for all of my talents and gifts come not from my own merit but from God. He might very well love that person whom I think lesser than myself more than He loves me. I must not seek my own exaltation in the eyes of men, especially for the good and virtuous things I do. For then I will have received my reward in this world instead of the glory the Lord wishes to give me in the next.
Finally, like Christ, I must consider myself the servant of all. Imagine if I treated everyone like he or she was Jesus Christ. Or, to take baby steps, imagine if I treated everyone like he or she was my boss. I've never insulted my boss or talked back to my boss but speak respectfully. And I've always done whatever my boss asks me to do to the best of my ability and without complaint. Why don't I treat everyone like that?
Giving up pride for Lent isn't easy. Especially for someone as full of it as I am. I have already failed more often than I probably would have if I simply tried to give up Peanut Butter M&Ms. But candy won't keep me out of Heaven. Pride certainly will.