About 15 years ago, while I was at a silent men’s retreat, during a talk about the importance of confession, Fr. John Hardon revealed that he went to confession almost every day. Later that day, while I was meeting with him, I asked, “Father, you said that you go to confession almost every day. What sins do you commit that make you feel as though you need to go to confession every day? I know you don’t lie or steal. You’re never late for anything, you’re always working, and I would bet that you don’t have any problems with coveting your neighbor’s wife or goods. What is it that makes you think you need to go to confession every day?”
Fr. Hardon smiled and responded, “If I told you, you’d be surprised.” Without even thinking, I shot back, “Surprise me, Father! You’re the holiest man I ever met. I can’t imagine you doing anything on a daily basis that would make you feel the need to go to confession. What are you doing every day that’s so offensive to God?”
Fr. Hardon appeared to be surprised by my persistence. He looked at me and said in a kind tone of voice, “Let’s just say that most of my sins have to do with pride, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
At the time of our conversation, Fr. Hardon was in his early 80s. Although he was frail and had ongoing health problems, his mind was as sharp as ever.
I had no idea what Fr. Hardon was talking about when he told me that most of his sins were related to pride. Up until that time, I had never confessed any sin that I had associated with pride. The sin of pride was nowhere to be found on my radar screen.
Of the seven capital sins – pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, and sloth – the most deadly is pride. It was the sin of pride that led Lucifer to defy God and declare, “I will not serve!” and it was an appeal to pride that persuaded Eve to defy her Creator: “…you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:6)
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “pride” as:
An inordinate esteem of oneself. It is inordinate because it is contrary to the truth. It is essentially an act or disposition of the will desiring to be considered better than a person really is. Pride may be expressed in different ways: by taking personal credit for gifts or possessions, as if they had not been received from God; by glorying in achievements, as if they were not primarily the result of divine goodness and grace; by minimizing one’s defects or claiming qualities that are not actually possessed; by holding oneself superior to others or disdaining them because they lack what the proud person has; by magnifying the defects of others or dwelling on them. When pride is carried to the extent that a person is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God and refuses to submit his or her will to God or lawful authority, it is a grave sin. The gravity arises from the fact that a person shows contempt for God or of those who take his place. Otherwise, pride is said to be imperfect and venially wrong.
As a result of original sin, every human being is born with a tendency toward pride. We know from our own experience that as soon as a child learns to talk, he quickly discovers the word “no,” which is a manifestation of his pride. None of us had to learn pride. We were all born with it.
Every year at the men’s retreat, Fr. Hardon reminded us of the importance of practicing the virtue of humility. He said that humility was the only true antidote to pride. An “antidote” is defined as “a remedy to counteract the effects of poison” or “something that relieves, prevents, or counteracts.” The Modern Catholic Dictionary describes humility as follows:
The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one’s total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one’s creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God’s gifts and use them according to his will.
In her book The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “…but it remains for us to become detached from our own selves, and it is a hard thing to withdraw from ourselves and oppose ourselves, because we are very close to ourselves and love ourselves very dearly… It is here that true humility can enter.”
It was God Himself who set an example of humility for us. He relinquished His power and glory by coming to Earth as a helpless human being. He was born to a poor and humble couple in a stable surrounded by animals. As an adult, He humbly submitted Himself to the authority of men who mocked Him, brutally tortured Him, and then nailed Him to a cross so He could die an ignominious death.
Our Lord said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
During the Lenten season, it is important for us to reflect on the role that pride played in the crucifixion of our Lord, and the role that it plays in our own lives. A suggestion: Prior to your next confession, review the definition of pride with the intention of ascertaining whether there are any sins of pride from your recent past that need to be revealed in the confessional.