Worst Kind Of Pride - A Spiritual Reflection

Two weeks ago, we looked at an article in The Atlantic magazine and a Pew Survey on why people don’t attend church. Last week we considered the possibility that St. Monica Parish, and me as the local pastor, might need to apologize to people for something that was done (or not done) in their lives by the Catholic church? We also looked at 6 elements of “an effective apology” in light of Pope Francis’ “Jubilee Year of Mercy.”


An effective apology is not easy. There are any number of items that can stand in the way as were outlined by a study done at The Ohio State by Emeritus Professor Roy Lewicki. Is there one at the top of the list however?

Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. In her column, Glancing Thoughts, she mused that pride might be one of the most serious detractions. As a point of departure, she looked at the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector featured in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14. In this Gospel Reading, Jesus uses the parable in order to teach a lesson about pride. As Jesus tells the parable, the prayer of the Pharisee is not pleasing to God; the prayer of the tax collector is however. The Pharisee tells God how terrific he is. The tax collector just prays for God to have mercy on him - a sinner.


Now what exactly is wrong with the Pharisee’s prayer?


True humility is seeing that every excellence you have is a gift. Notice that the parable doesn’t doubt that what the Pharisee says it true – it is. He really does lead a life of moral excellence. And notice too that the Pharisee doesn’t congratulate himself on this moral excellence in himself. He thanks God for it; he gives God all the credit for it.

So what exactly is wrong with this Pharisee? St. Thomas Aquinas says that there are four kinds of pride.

  1. There’s foolish pride. You think you have an excellence which you don’t have, like a child who thinks he’s the best basketball player in the world.
  2. There’s the the “self-made man/woman” pride. You might think that you are truly excellent in a particular field – and that might, indeed be true. But you think that you got that excellence by yourself without anybody’s help.
  3. There’s the (very sneaky) self-congratulatory pride. You might think that you are truly excellent in a particular field, and that might be true, and you might also recognize that God gave it to you. However, you presume that God gave this talent to you because he knew that you would make such good use of it (My, aren’t you just soooo terrific!).
  4. And then there’s the most self-deceptive kind of pride. You think you have excellence in a particular field. You recognize that you have it because God gave it to you. You acknowledge that God gave it because God is so good - not because you are so nice. BUT you are glad others don’t have it and you hope they don’t get it either.


Here is where we see what is wrong with the Pharisee. He accepts that his excellence is a gift from the Lord. He just doesn’t want anybody else to have what he has. He likes being in a place or prominence in society and feels threatened by anybody else who would “compete” for his exalted position. Thus he puts down the tax collector - the worst kind of pride.

What is a “counter-measure” for this? Perhaps realizing that the talents you have might actually be charisms that not only can be – but must be – shared with others. On June 2 - 3, St. Monica – in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia - will host the Called And Gifted seminar directed by the Catherine of Siena Institute. The seminar is designed to help Christians discern the presence of charisms in their lives and how to work together with the Lord to allow your charism to be effective in the lives of others. This relates to true humility - seeing that every excellence you have is a gift from your loving Lord and is given to you so that you can share it with others as well and rejoice with them when they have it too.


Imagine if the Pharisee signed up for the seminar.




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