Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pride in Disguise

"Dear God, in case you're not aware of it, here's how great I am . . ."

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 28, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 18: 9-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2007]

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Portland, Maine?

If you’re a responsible parent who cares about your children and who believes in the Ten Commandments, then I’m sure you’re ecstatic.

As many of you know, a few weeks ago the Portland school committee decided, by a vote of 7-2, to make artificial contraceptives—including birth control pills—available to students at King Middle School. This means that little girls as young as 11 years of age—who probably need special permission to get an aspirin from the school nurse—will now be able to get birth control pills at school without their parents ever knowing about it!

Obviously from an ethical perspective this new policy is gravely immoral. But aside from that, it’s also foolish! Don’t they realize that you will never stop young people from engaging in certain behaviors by giving them the tools they need to carry out those behaviors?

It’s like telling children not to shoot guns, and then providing them with loaded revolvers!

It makes no sense!

But on an even deeper level, this decision of the Portland school committee provides us with a very important spiritual lesson: It show us how easily pride can disguise itself as something good.

I say that because, in effect, the 7 committee members who voted in favor of this policy are saying to parents, “You mothers and fathers are a disgrace! You can’t be trusted to educate your own children in matters of sexual morality! But that’s understandable, because we don’t think your children are capable of making good decisions even if they are taught right from wrong! To us, your kids are like little animals in heat, and they need to be treated that way. So we—the enlightened, informed, compassionate people that we are—will help your little beasts deal with their raging hormones by giving them birth control—all the birth control they want.”

If I were a parent in Portland, I would be livid. I would be screaming, “How dare you? How dare you impose your immorality on me and on my family? How dare you be so arrogant and prideful?”

And then I would immediately pull my children out of King Middle School and put them in a good Catholic school—like ours here at St. Pius!

So here we have pride masking itself—very cleverly—as compassion and concern.

That, my brothers and sisters, is all too typical of how pride operates in our lives.

You see, of all the seven deadly sins, pride is without question the most dangerous! It’s the most dangerous because it’s normally the most difficult one to identify.

For example, if we’re truly honest with ourselves we know when we committed the sin of lust; we know when we’ve slipped into sinful anger; we know when we’ve committed the sin of gluttony (our digestive system makes that clear to us); we can feel envy welling up inside; we know when we’re being selfish and greedy; and other people tend to confront us when we’re being lazy—“Get up off that couch and do something!”

But pride is different. It’s different because it often comes disguised as something attractive, something GOOD! In Maine, as I just made clear, it’s currently disguising itself as genuine concern for young people. And in today’s Gospel story it’s very cleverly disguised as prayer and devotion. This Pharisee, we are told, goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and “prays”. But his prayer is not a humble request for help and mercy; it’s rather what I would call a little “news brief” directed to the Almighty: “Dear God, in case you’re not aware of it, here’s how great I am, and here’s how bad everyone else is—including this pathetic tax collector. Amen.”

His words are filled with pride. But please notice something: the man himself is totally unaware of it! In fact, as he leaves the Temple, he thinks he’s just drawn closer to the Lord!

But he hasn’t! If anything, he’s just done something that’s pulled him further away from God—the God he thinks he’s serving so well!

Pride disguised as prayer.

This phenomenon, incidentally—where pride conceals itself as something good—is really nothing new. It goes all way back to the Garden of Eden and the very beginning of human history! Do you remember what the serpent said to Eve when he wanted to get her to disobey the Lord? He said, “Look at that beautiful tree in the middle of the garden, Eve; take a good look at it. Do you know why God told you not to eat the fruit that comes from that tree? He told you that because he wants to hold you back! He told you that because he wants to keep you down! He knows very well that if you and your husband consume any of that fruit, you’ll be like gods yourselves!”

In effect, Satan was saying, “If you and Adam disobey the Lord in this way, you will become all that you can be! You will be on your way to realizing your full potential as human beings! You’ll be like gods!”

That was pride disguised as self-fulfillment: "Fulfill yourself, Eve, by disobeying God and his law."

Obviously pride still uses that disguise today—and very effectively! As we all know, it’s quite common nowadays for people to disregard God’s moral law for the sake of reaching what they consider to be their “full potential”. They do it in business; they do it in politics; they do it in the Church at times; they even do it in the world of sports!

It’s why athletes take steroids! Whether these sports stars realize it or not, they’ve all made the choice to use performance enhancing drugs because they’ve given in to pride: pride disguised as self-fulfillment.

How is pride disguising itself in my life right now?

That’s a very important question for each of us to consider. But, as important as it is, I don’t think any of us can answer it at this moment—at least I don’t think any of us can answer it ADEQUATELY at this moment. Because pride is so subtle and hard to identify, this is something we really have to think and pray about!

How is pride disguising itself in my life right now?

Please, please, please—don’t leave that question here in church today! Take it with you, and really reflect on it in the near future. Because when we don’t come to terms with the pride in our lives we suffer the negative consequences: like the Pharisee in this Gospel, for example, we don’t pray effectively; like the athletes who take anabolic steroids, we do harm to ourselves; and the like the 7 school committee members in Portland, Maine, we make rules and policies that hurt others—including our own children.