Vile anti-Semitism has reared its head amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. OSV News photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Pride goes before all our follies

  • December 7, 2023

Is our freedom absolute? If God is perfectly free, and we bear His image and likeness, are we not then perfectly free?

Anyone with a knowledge and experience of sin (and that would be all of us, by the way) knows that we are not perfectly free. The effects of the Fall are sin, death and corruption. Part of that corruption is that the exercise of our free will is corrupted. We continually vacillate between doing good and doing evil, pursuing what is true and what is false, between loving and hating. Thanks be to God for our salvation in Jesus Christ since He provides us with the perfect model of how to use our will: to humble ourselves, to suffer well, to minister to those around us, to love unconditionally.

In our baptismal vocation to join ourselves fully with Christ we accept that we are not the Saviour, we are not the arbiter of what is ultimately true, we are not God. We accept that He is Lord, the Saviour  and Truth itself. This acceptance demands humility, a humility that breeds self-awareness enabling us to put God first, others second and ourselves third.

Yet, we continue to struggle with sin and especially that greatest of sins: pride. Pride is the source of all other sin because with pride we get everything backwards, appointing ourselves as saviour, Lord and judge over all, displacing God and expecting others to be subject to our agendas, our whims and our passions. St. John of Sinai (called Climachus) in his Ladder of Divine Ascent has this to say about pride: “Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from divine assistance, the precursor of madness, the herald of falls, a foothold for satanic possession, source of anger, door of hypocrisy, the support of demons, the guardian of sins, the patron of unsympathy, the rejection of compassion, a bitter inquisitor, an inhuman judge, an opponent of God, a root of blasphemy.” Indeed.

Pride is a truly wicked and pernicious evil, yet our culture positively delights in it. It especially manifests itself these days as a “source of anger, the door of hypocrisy and an inhuman judge.” We see it in those who condemn their fellow human beings simply because they hold to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality or life issues. In that condemnation, they diminish the person to a label: misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, bigot. We see it in the disgustingly vile anti-Semitism that has reared its ugly head yet again in Canadian streets, universities and chat rooms where Jews are to be banished or destroyed altogether. We see it in those who refuse to countenance another peacefully held view, whether it be political, theological, historical, economic or social.

Instead, that view is to be suppressed and the person “cancelled.” Of course, it is all much of a nonsense since a person who bears God’s image and likeness cannot be “cancelled.” All these forms of inhuman judgment that reject compassion and subject those who run afoul of our bitter inquisition have pride as their source and self-consuming end: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

Pride places us above others and above God since we judge whether someone is worthy simply by whether they agree with us or not or who they are. We wound others and injure our common life when we do this. In our pride, we believe that we are the sole custodians and arbiters of truth. We will cite freedom of expression as our license to say whatever we want.

Yet our freedom is not absolute and our conscience should impose upon us; it is what should limit us. Our expression is only free when first ordered and limited by the conscience, not by some legal prohibition. We have a bounden duty to exercise good judgment by examining ourselves: “What is motivating my words and actions?” If it is sin, especially envy, malice, false witness, we must be silent and repent. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity” (Psalm 140:3-4).

(The Reverend Andrew Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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