Living in a culture that puts such an emphasis on achievement, credentials, and results can largely affect how we see others and how we see ourselves. We may be tempted to think that our worth comes from what we do, and so we strive to do more, achieve more, and be better than those around us. This thinking can impact our spiritual life, too. We can get into the mentality that the amount of Rosaries we pray, the times we go to daily Mass, or the number of ministries we volunteer for prove that we’re ‘good Catholics.’
But our relationship with God doesn’t work like that. And this mentality can actually lead us into the sin of spiritual pride. Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ reflected on the dangers of spiritual pride recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, saying, “Spiritual pride is a major problem inside of the lives of spiritual people. And that pride, even in religious aspects and even in the spiritual life, can work its way into our perspective, into our judgments, and into the way we see ourselves.”
Defining pride pride as an inordinate self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and consequently sets oneself in competition with God, Fr. Matthew said, “You can very easily see how it is connected to the spiritual life. When you and I love our spiritual practices so much, and we love that other people notice that we’re praying the Rosary, that we are prayerful and meditative, that we can remain on our knees longer than other people around us, then we desire honor for these things. Then we are failing to attract attention to God, and instead are attracting attention to ourselves.”
He pointed out that we should always remember that faith is a gift, and we can do nothing on our own. Fr. Matthew said, “Without God we are nothing. Without God we wouldn’t be able to pray. Without God we wouldn’t even be able to kneel and esteem the name of Jesus. That is spiritual pride when you and I become so focused on our spiritual endeavors, and they begin to lose the purpose of why we’re doing them.”
It’s an area of the spiritual life that I’m sorry doesn’t get more attention,” he continued. “The spiritual life is not meant to be a badge of honor. It’s not meant for us to attract attention to ourselves. And if our spiritual disciplines are leading us to somehow compare ourselves to each other, to exalt ourselves over others, then there is a a grave danger that can set in. Because the very spiritual practices that are meant to humble us, meant to keep us close to God, and meant to lead us to a life that is exemplary can become themselves a stumbling block for us. You shouldn’t stop doing these things. But if we’re doing them for the wrong reasons we have to evaluate that and purify our motives.”
So whether you have spiritual practices that you are already devoted to, or whether you are looking to add a certain practice to your prayer life, it is important to discern whether your motivation is growing in holiness or simply looking more holy.
“We have to look and recognize when our intent and our motivations are misguided. And then bring it back around, realize what God desires of us, realize how we’re called to really, truly practice those spiritual elements. But for the right reasons. For growth in holiness, for turning to the Lord in dependence and trust in Him, and for truly becoming the saints God wants us to be.”
Listen to the full reflection below: