The Merry Catholic

"MERRY" (mer - ee) adjective: full of cheerfulness; joyous in spirit; mirthful.
"CATHOLIC" (kath - lick) noun: a believer in Christ; the Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 A.D.

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The Merry Catholic essay: September 17, 2014:

©2014

PRIDE IS THE WORST SIN

There’s a popular song by country singer Lee Greenwood called “God Bless the U.S.A.” The song had a resurgence right after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The refrain of the song is, “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” It’s a very patriotic and heart-warming song, but there’s just one problem: the Bible clearly teaches that pride is a sin.

C.S. Lewis, possibly the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century, discussed the sin of pride in his classic book, Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote: “…the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed and drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Whoa! The complete anti-God state of mind? That’s not good. And yet, our culture is obsessed with pride. We’re proud of our achievements; we’re proud of our wealth; we’re proud of our fancy new car; we’re proud of our favorite sports team; we’re proud, as Greenwood sang, to be an American. Many people I know express that they’re proud to be Catholic.

But what exactly is so wrong with pride? According to Lewis, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others….It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Ah ha, so that’s the key. If we are comparing ourselves to others, and thinking that we’re better than they are, and looking down our noses at them, then sinful pride is at work in us.

People who enjoy Greenwood’s song and claim they are “proud to be an American,” or people who say they are proud to be Catholic, have to ask themselves an important question: Is my pride due to the fact I’m not living in a lesser country, or because I’m not a member of an inferior religion? If that’s the case, God is surely not pleased.

When I was in high school, every fall the cars in town were emblazoned with bumper stickers that said: “Morgan Huskies Have Pride!” The community was and still is proud of its football team. In football, if a player scores a touchdown and accepts the congratulations of his teammates and is proud of a job well done, then that really isn’t sinful pride. But if a player scores a touchdown and immediately starts taunting and mocking his opponent in an attempt to denigrate him (which seems to be standard procedure in football nowadays), then you can be sure sinful pride is at work.

So pride is not always bad. If we are proud of our achievements because we worked hard and utilized the talents that God gave us, it’s not necessarily a sin—as long as we don’t feel superior about it when we compare ourselves to others who didn’t achieve as much.

In Christian theology, there is a virtue that is the exact opposite of sinful pride. This virtue is humility. Humility is knowing that all the good things we have are gifts from God, and therefore we should not brag about them. Humble people are grateful people, not arrogant people.

Maybe the refrain of Greenwood’s song ought to be, “And I’m humble and grateful to be an American…”

Well, that doesn’t quite flow with the music, does it? But it’s really closer to what God wants from us.

(Note: Listen to these "Merry Catholic" essays on WJMJ, the radio station of the Archdiocese of Hartford, at 88.9 FM or by streaming audio at wjmj.org.)