Pride Goes Before The Fall

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Luke 14

The point of my homily is that the issue of pride and humility is much larger than the simple humble protocol we should follow as a guest at the table in some one’s home.

 

Let’s look at humility first and then pride.

Our model for humility, of course, is Christ himself.  St. Paul writes that Christ himself did not cling to the fact that he was God.  He became like us in all things except sin, even to the point of death, death on the cross.

John the Baptist, another model of humility, proclaimed, “I am not the Messiah.” And again “He must increase, I must decrease.”

Humility is truth and the truth is that we are creatures.  We are not the Creator.  We don’t get to make the rules.  On the other hand, when we follow God’s rules and invest in a close relationship with Christ, we are happy in life because we are living according to the image and likeness of God, in which we were created.  But our wills have been weakened and our intellects darkened by the original sin of our first parents.  This accounts in part for the fact that we have not always acted according to that image.  We have sinned.  And we do not live perfectly in the image of God.

The truth is that we were created good as all that God created was good.  Any good that we do is by cooperating with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The good fruits that we bear are due not just to our own efforts but to our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

This past week we celebrated the feast of St. Augustine so I’ve borrowed what he has to say about humility for some of the things I will say today.

St. Augustine tells us that our first mission in life “is to be dissatisfied with ourselves, fight sin, and let God transform us into the person of Christ.”  We will never be perfect but we never stop striving.  “…Your second task,” he writes,” is to put up with the trials and temptations of this world that will be brought on by the change [Christ is working] in your life and also to persevere to the very end in the midst of these things.”  If we are so content with ourselves that we stop trying to be more like Christ, saints tell us we will fall backwards, exactly what the devil wants.

St. Paul told us we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling.  There is no easy street to heaven.  Christ’s journey to Calvary was not a walk in the park.  And Augustine warns us:  “Don’t claim your conversion as your own doing.  Unless Christ had called you when you were running away from Him, you would not have been able to turn back.”

St. Augustine prayed, “Lord, reveal me to myself.”  He wanted to see himself through the eyes of Christ.  He wanted the truth.  He was afraid his own eyes or even others’ might not reveal the true picture.   Only if he knew what was separating him from Christ, could he work on becoming closer to Christ.

Being humble is not to be less than yourself.  Augustine wrote: “Understand that no one is telling you “Be less than you are”; they are telling you “know what you are.” End of quote.   Know that you are human.  Know that you are a sinner.  [Know that you were created in the image and likeness of God.]   Know that it is God Who loves you who frees you from blame” [when you repent].  Be what you are called to be.  Do not limit yourself to your own dreams.  Become what God has dreamed for you.  Josh Groban sang so beautifully “You raise me up to more than I can be.”

Augustine reminds us:  “Whatever He [the Lord] promised, He promised to those who were unworthy.  Thus, it was not a case of a reward being promised to workers but of grace being given as a gift….”   That is why we pray at Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy….”  “Do not proclaim your [own] righteousness” said St. Augustine.    He assures us that we will not lose whatever we have given to God, but it will follow us into heaven.”  We will become more of who we are and were created to be, not less.

Let’s now take a look at pride.  It is the devil who is the model of pride.  Of who NOT to imitate.  Satan, who fell because of his pride, hates the humble and goes about the world promoting the same pride that did Adam and Eve out of the garden.  Misery loves company.

So everyone should beware, even religious leaders.  Some have betrayed their vocation by giving into embarrassment about talking about the devil.   No one can ignore the reality of Satan.  If we don’t talk about the devil, we really don’t believe in the devil.  St. Paul said, “Because I believe, I spoke.”   Not to speak about the devil is to ignore his existence.  It is to fail to arm the flock against the devil.

St. Augustine said:  “Pride is the beginning of all sin.  What is pride but the desire of a height out of proportion to our state?”   “Who are the proud?” he asks:  “Those who do not perform penance and confess their sins in order to be healed through humility.”   The devil and pride are the cause of the short lines for confession.

Christ began his public ministry with an initial warning shot across the bow of Satan’s ship of pride to let him know that the battle was on.  Jesus fired this shot when he was tempted by the devil in the desert.   The devil was not going to win this battle.  Scripture tells us, however, / that the devil does not give up so easily.  We read in the gospel that the devil would come back to tempt the Lord again at another opportune time.  St. Paul tells us “Pride goes before the fall.”  If the devil did that to Christ, he is going to do it to us.  In fact, the devil continues to tempt Christ in the form of his Mystical Body, the Church.  And we have seen his success even though in the end Christ promised the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

To see how far the devil has gotten, not too long ago the Superior General of the Jesuits stated that the devil is not a person, just a symbol we have invented for the evil that is in the world as if the devil is just some impersonal force like in a Star Wars movie.  The truth is that he is someone, he is a person, a fallen angel,  who positively defies divinity and attempts to tear the world from God’s hands—even to dethrone God himself…Satan is a rebellious, fallen creature who frantically attempts to set up a kingdom of superficial appearances and disorder to lure us away from God.

We must not think that we can, on our own, prevent the devil’s infiltration into our lives.  And Christ promised us his help, his grace, that would strengthen us to resist the devil.   We are nothing without God.

Church exorcists have stated categorically that they are dealing with a person.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the devil is a real person, a fallen angel.  Sadly, neither the Jesuit’s bishop nor the Pope has corrected him, thus promoting confusion in the church members.  Confusion is from the devil.

In our present age mankind has cast off the armor of humility and clothed itself in pride.  Ominously, Arch Chaput writes: “We live in an age when almost every scientific advance seems to be matched by some new cruelty in our entertainment, cynicism in our politics, ignorance of the past, consumer greed, subtle genocides posing as rights like the cult of abortion, and a basic confusion about what—if anything distinctive at all –it means to be human.  This grounding in God is exactly what the modern spirit rejects as an insult to the desire of humanity to be a god unto itself.”  Science in its pride, believes that just because it can do something, it ought to do it–without reference to ethics, morality or God.  They book no constraints.  They also believe that science is the only source of true knowledge, eliminating what we can know through faith.  That is a repeat of Adam and Eve’s sin of pride.

The Archbishop continues:  “For all of its great benefits, modern technology (i.e., science) can isolate people as often as it brings them together.  It weakens community as easily as it builds it up.”  The devil’s mission is to divide and conquer.  The devil tempts us to disunion, to isolation, to aloneness, to separation from each other and from God through sin.  And he doesn’t hesitate to use modern technology.   IPhones and other great technology accomplishments are great / but only when used to unite, never to isolate.

The devil has attacked the heart of our Catholic faith.  A recent poll revealed that 70% of church going Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  We have neglected to teach from the pulpit one of the essential beliefs of our church:  namely, that at mass when the priest says the words of consecration (This is my body, this is my blood), the Holy Spirit transforms the substance of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  This is not a symbol of Christ.  This is Christ himself.

In our pride, we are unbelieving of this mystery.  We ask ourselves “How can this be possible?”  Well, if God created the world out of nothing, do we really believe that he cannot change through the Holy Spirit the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ?   Faith is an act of humility.  Disbelief is an act of pride.  It is disbelief in a world and power beyond ourselves.  Pride is the belief that we are the center of the world.

So the fundamental crisis of the church of our time, and the special crisis of today’s Christians, has little to do with numbers, or organization, or resources.  It’s a crisis of faith.  It is a crisis of pride.  We, including clergy, think we know better than God.

Because we see sin in the church in her members, we think we should leave, as if we were not sinners ourselves.  That is pride.  All throughout the Bible, God dealt with a rebellious sinful people who worshipped pagan gods.  Time and again, God would bring them back to true worship.  God never turned away from them.  Time and again He renewed his covenant relationship with them.

It is the same with the church.  He told the apostles, “I will be with you all days.”  He knew that those he called to his church would be sinners.  That’s exactly who he came to save.  He told that to us in the parable of the lost sheep.  He leaves the 99 and goes after the one lost.  He will never abandon us.  If Christ does not turn away from us because of our sins, we should not turn away from him in his church because of the sins of its members.   To abandon the church is to be self-righteous.  We are all sinners.

Any reason that you find to abandon church originates from the devil because his mission is to separate us from God.  St. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.”

We live in a world that in its pride banishes God to the margins—as Adam and Eve did / tempted to by the devil.  We too want to be gods!  That pride is what the devil uses to promote so much violence in our culture.  We use violence to assert our authority.  We put down those who oppose us. Violence separates, degrades, divides and disvalues.   It is from the devil.

Arch. Chaput writes:  “When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life isn’t sacred and may not be worth much at all.  In fact, certain kinds of killing no longer even counts officially as “killing.”  New Jersey just passed an assisted suicide law.

To assign the cause of violence to the words of one high profile man, no matter how vile, therefore is to live in darkness.  It is a political ploy.  The problem is not one person.  It is us.  In our pride we have made ourselves gods, each of us making up our own set of human rules—which inevitably conflict with each other– that inevitably polarize us and produce conflicts and violence.  This is benignly called “Individualism.”  “I’ve got to be me.”  With God, however, there is only one rule—his rule– and when we live by that rule, it unites all who follow it.

Arch. Chaput writes:  “…only a fool can believe that “gun control” will solve the problem of mass violence.  The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts.  And the twisting is done by the culture, [the culture] of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half century.”  End of quote.  This has been fueled by pride.  How can we not believe that the devil is quite adept at his mission?   How can we believe that everyone else is to blame but ourselves?  That is pride.  Take the beam out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye, said Jesus.

Christ was born in a humble cave, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.  He died on the cross, like a common criminal out of love for us.  He did not cling to the fact that he was God.   We’ve all heard the story of his humility before.  And as before many simply ignore its lesson!  We don’t believe we could be duped by the devil.

St. Augustine writes:  “Unless humility precedes, accompanies, and follows up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”  That includes heaven.  But we don’t believe it could happen to us.   What is the presumption at every funeral that you attend?  It’s  “I’m sure he/she is heaven now!”   Oh, really?!

Christ told us the way to hell is broad but the way to heaven is narrow.   The proud take the broad road.  The humble choose the narrow gate.

A parishioner from my former parish sends me “Old-timers’ Quotes” on Facebook.  This one echoes the words about the narrow way.  And I will leave you with this:  “The fact that there is a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about / anticipated traffic numbers.”

Fr. H. James Hutchins, retired pastor but still active and chaplain to Emmaus and Samson Retreats

 

 

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