Monday, January 15, 2007

The Seven Deadly Sins: No. 1 - - Pride

Other six deadly sins ‘flea bites’ compared to pride

Back in the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great formulated the list of seven deadly sins he named pride the root of all evil.

Fourteen centuries later, C.S. Lewis called all other vices mere flea bites compared to pride.

Humility (the virtue we admire in others and find so difficult to practice ourselves) was the antidote to violence and a key to mental health, St. Benedict claimed.

Contrary to popular opinion, humility is not subservience, passivity or a false sense of unworthiness that prevents us from full human development. Though we all know from personal experience as well as public scandal that there is truth in the saying “pride goeth before a fall,” it is consoling to know that we do not have to be humiliated in order to grow in humility. In fact, if properly understood, humility is a powerfully freeing thing.

Lesson in humility

I learned that one day while walking with my daughter through a busy mall. There in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas shoppers, I spotted the friend I had been estranged from for more than a decade, working behind the cosmetic counter. My heart began to race and the fear of rejection began to rise as the idea of swallowing my pride and approaching her crossed my mind.

When I turned to my daughter and told her what I was considering, she advised me against it. But something in me would not let this opportunity pass. The funny thing is, the once all-consuming question of who was responsible for the wedge — now grown into a chasm — between us suddenly seemed unimportant. As I walked toward the counter, I was amazed by my warm feelings toward her. After praying for courage, I greeted the woman who had once been like a sister to me.

After years of feeling everything from anger, depression and guilt over the estrangement, I cannot adequately convey the sense of freedom and peace I felt in that moment. While I was relieved that she was cordial, and am glad to say that we had a surprisingly warm conversation that day, the real joy for me was the experience of feeling unconditional love, for myself as well as her.

Divine humor frees us

It was only later that it struck me that this first step toward reconciliation had taken place over a “make-up” counter. The divine sense of humor was not lost on me, and I couldn’t help but think how often pride keeps us either from admitting our mistakes or dwelling on them so intensely that they become the focus, rather than the one whose love frees us to laugh at ourselves.

It has been my experience that every time I have the good sense to cooperate with grace, let go of my pride and allow love to have its way in my heart, good things happen. Priorities change, relationships heal and life becomes less a chore and more a celebration.

Over time it becomes a little easier to say “I was wrong,” “I don’t know” or “I need help.” You might say that pride imprisons us, and humility sets us free.

Terri Mifek is a spiritual director and member of St. Edward in Bloomington.

See The Catholic Spirit for The Other Deadly Sins
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