President Ronald Reagan was often referred to as “The Great Communicator”. Besides being extremely charismatic, he was very gifted at disarming a crowd, weaving interesting anecdotes, and winning people over with jokes in his speeches. After having given so many speeches and receiving so many compliments for his rhetoric, there is no doubt President Reagan was aware of his gift. He may have grown accustomed to receiving the sort of reaction that he wanted.
But he wasn’t destined to always curry favor with his audiences. He recalled the story of a time when he was humbled at a speaking engagement in Mexico City. He got up to speak and he went through his usual routine. He was engaging, concise, and funny. But he didn’t get the response that he was hoping for. He sat down to underwhelming applause. Another man got up to speak after him, except his speech was in Spanish, which Reagan did not understand. As the crowd began to cheer and applaud, he became embarrassed that he was being shown up. In an attempt to save face, he began clapping earlier and longer than anyone else.
The U.S. ambassador leaned over to President Reagan and said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. He’s interpreting your speech.”
While many of us are not giving speeches across the world, we have all had an experience where our reality doesn’t even come close to our expectations. Our pride and anticipation get the best of us and try as we might to come out on top, we are absolutely humbled. It must have been profoundly embarrassing to be told that, especially as a president, but Reagan says he saw the lesson in it. We are not gods. We are not perfect.
Josh Raymond welcomed Fr. Eric Nielsen onto The Inner Life to discuss pride, the root of all other sins, and humility, the antidote for pride.
As we know, pride has a dark history as the greatest sin because of the original betrayal, before even Adam and Eve. Lucifer, “light-bearer”, was one of the highest-ranking angels in heaven. He was very close to God. And yet, he could not overcome his pride. When he was asked to serve Our Lord, to bow his head and worship, he responded, “I will not serve.”
And after the fall of Adam and Eve, sin entered our world. Our first parents had a choice and instead of choosing to be eternally happy beings in tune with God and His creation, they chose to be “like gods”. And thus, we were marked with original sin, and the guarantee that we will be subject to mistakes, specifically mistakes born of pride. While that may sound depressing, we should look at it as intel. We know that we all have pride. Father Eric pointed out that that’s the first step in attempting to conquer it.
The next step in stopping it is learning to recognize it in all of its forms: hatred, envy, anger, laziness, lust, and the multitude of other sins we fall into. Hatred stems from pride because we hate somebody we think is less than us in some way. But we don’t understand anybody else completely, and to God, we are all sons and daughters of His. We are all faulted human beings. We may disagree with someone, not enjoy being around them, or know what they are doing is evil, but we have no right to hate anybody. The only being we should hate is the devil because he is pure evil and a proponent of sin alone.
Envy stems from pride for the same reason. We get jealous because we believe we deserve something over someone who may or may not be worthy of something they received (recognition, awards, fame, money). But objectively, even if we were more deserving than that person, we should not seek material compensation out of pride. We should rest easy, knowing that we did our best for the glory of God. Anger stems from pride because we are prioritizing our disappointment or sadness over another human being, forgetting that we, too, make mistakes.
Lust is a prioritization of our sexual desire over the dignity of another human person. Laziness is the belief that we are above our duties and responsibilities, and we can leave others to fulfill them for us. Every last sin stems from pride.
But not all hope is lost. We are fully capable of diminishing this pride if we’re willing to take the steps. Father Eric encouraged the listeners to return to the child-like state where we can be suspicious of our thoughts and our ideas, and reach the point where we can admit that we might be wrong. We aren’t as spectacular as we think we are. We aren’t faultless.
“We have a God that gives grace to the humble and resists the proud. And so, recognition of your own deficiencies and sinfulness is the way that we draw closer to God.”
It’s a cycle: The more we recognize our pride and deny it, the more we grow in humility, the more we grow closer to God, and the easier it is to resist pride. God has set us up for success. So let us not be like the pharisee announcing his prayer in the front of the temple. Let us be the tax collector with the bent head, beating his breast in the back. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
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