Pride is the deadliest sin for good reason. The idea that we as individuals define the goodness of our own thoughts, morality and actions is a fundamental distortion of reality. Everything in my life that I regret, every word or deed I wish I could take back, has been caused by pride when I’ve acted with a distorted, aggrandized picture of myself. This is the sin that sees Satan fall like lightning and can easily reduce you and me.
Pride is deceitful because the actions it motivates aren’t, on the surface, necessarily evil. In my pride, I want to fix everything, shelter my children from sorrow or suffering, and protect the ones I love from pain. But I can’t. It wouldn’t even make sense that I could. What a strange thought to think — that I have all the answers. My proud interventions are ill-conceived and lack the necessary information. Worst of all, they display the (very mistaken) belief that I am in control.
Pride is so blinding that people will actually brag about their pride. It’s a lack of perspective that, if we’re not careful, sweeps us away, even in the Church.
This is the true secret of humility. Unlike pride, humility allows us to apprehend reality with accuracy.
G.K. Chesterton says, “very often a scene is best seen when it is seen upside down.” In describing St. Francis of Assisi, he writes, “He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.” St. Francis had a rather famous conversion, one that included taking off his clothing and disappearing into the forest to become a hermit. Previously, he’d been a well-to-do, womanizing, materialistic young man. His was such an intense conversion that it could well be described as an inversion. He flipped head over heels.
A Christian views reality entirely differently than a non-Christian. For a Christian, happiness begins in selflessness; weakness is strength; spiritual poverty is wealth; suffering is grace. Our view of reality arises from humility before God; a deep-down freshness, a bottomless font of grace washing over everything and making it clean and bright. Its glance takes in angels weightless in the air under the warm look of the Sun. It sees Christ in the poor, Christ in the immigrant and Christ in our enemies.
Humility is realistic. I am a sinful creature. I cannot control anything, cannot order or command, cannot repair everything. We accept this, not with despair, but as motivation to make ourselves a gift to God and place ourselves in his hands. Humility is the road to love. Humility is love.
Humility stands us on our heads, a vantage from which — borrowing from the poet Richard Wilbur — it’s a miracle simply that trees grow green, sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day, and that God loves even people like you and me.
Father Michael Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.