Sunday, August 04, 2019

Vanity: Satan’s Favorite Sin

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on August 4, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Please Read Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Psalm 90:3-27; Colossians 3: 1-11; Luke 12: 13-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2019]

In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate,” Al Pacino plays a devious and highly-persuasive Satan, who sets out to destroy a young, ambitious lawyer.  He tries to capitalize on the lawyer’s pride, and even though he fails to achieve his ultimate goal during the film, it’s clear at the end that he hasn’t given up!  He begins a brand new attack, disguising himself as a news reporter who’s looking for an interview.  His strategy (which isn’t immediately obvious to the lawyer or the audience) is to make the lawyer famous, and then use his fame to destroy him.  At first the lawyer says “no” to the interview, but as the film concludes he gives in, and promises to talk to the reporter in the near future; then he walks away.  At that point the reporter turns to the camera, his face changes to reveal his true identity, and he says to the audience, “Vanity, it’s my favorite sin.”

How true!

Vanity (which is a form of pride) is Satan’s favorite sin, because it lies at the root and foundation of every other sin.

When pride creeps into something good, it immediately corrupts it.

Consider the rich man in the parable Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel text from Luke 12: Was it wrong for this person to think about providing for his future?  Certainly not!  It was reasonable and prudent.  It would have been fine for him to have an IRA or a 401k.  But, unfortunately, this was his only concern in life!  As Jesus indicates in the final line of the story, the man was not at all interested in growing rich in what matters to God; his sole concern was his own personal comfort and well-being!  He—and not the Lord—was at the center of his universe.  That’s pride!  If he were alive today, this man would no doubt be a big supporter of research which involves the destruction of human embryos, because that research might help him live longer.  In all likelihood he would also support Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling fetal body parts to the companies that do this research.  He wouldn’t care in the least that innocent human beings were being killed in the process.  If he were a modern businessman, he would cheat his employees out of a just wage—and cut corners whenever possible—to line his own pockets with more money.

Here we see how something good—namely, a desire to provide reasonably for one’s future—gets corrupted by vanity!

Consequently, we need to take seriously the advice St. Paul gives us in today’s second reading from Colossians 3, when he says, “Put to death . . . the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.”  Pride is one of those “earthly things” that we must “kill” before it puts us to death spiritually (and perhaps even physically!).  I like the final scene of “The Devil’s Advocate” because it reminds us that Satan is always on the offensive in these matters: we may kill pride successfully in one situation, but Satan will always try to resurrect it in another—as he did in the life of that lawyer.  So the “killing” must go on continually!  (This, by the way, is the only time you’ll ever hear me promote “killing” in a homily!) 

And how do you put pride and those other sins to death in your life?  There really is only one way: through humility! The truly humble person will admit his sin whenever he needs to, and bring it to Confession as soon as possible!  He won’t hide it, or deny it, or rationalize it away (that’s what proud people do!).  And, in humility, he will realize that he needs God’s grace to resist temptation and avoid sin in the future; consequently—in humility—he will seek the Lord’s grace through prayer, frequent reception of the Eucharist, and through acts of penance, fasting and self-denial.

Satan says, “Vanity, it’s my favorite sin.”

The response of every Catholic Christian should be, “Humility, it’s my favorite virtue: because through it I receive forgiveness—and the grace I need to put vanity and pride to death in my life.”