If we can eradicate pride from our lives, we can enjoy living in the grace of God to the full. In September, we will go to work using the Liturgy of the Word in each one of its readings over the five Sundays to subdue the pride that may be lurking in our subconscious. By taking to heart each of the 15 readings this month we can make great strides in our spiritual life and, thus, come to a joy that can stay with us forever.
The first sentence of the first reading of the first Sunday, the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, introduces us to the ultimate weapon against pride. If we conduct all our affairs with humility, pride will be conquered. And that would be the end of the story right there. However, pride is so deceptive and so ubiquitous that the wise old Sirach continues on as does the Church in continuing this theme for the month. Here, he warns us that we should not try to seek that which is too sublime. There are limitations we should put on our quest for knowledge. He adds that we should have an attentive ear. To be humble and happy we should do more listening than speaking. We should adopt the attitude of a student who loves to learn.
The Liturgy of the Word, then, takes us to the Epistle, to the Hebrews where the author gives us a glimpse of heaven. If we want to confront our pride, there is nowhere better to direct our minds than to thoughts of heaven. It is beautifully mind-boggling. Just think of countless angels, of an equally uncountable number of the just made perfect, and the blood of the martyrs that speaks out eloquently. That doesn’t even get us to God, the judge of all and of Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. Such visions are beyond human words. It simply humbles us. It’s an excellent way to fight pride.
The Gospel today is from Luke. In fact, all the Gospel passages for the month come from that section of Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus is presented as a philosopher/prophet who is confronted by the proud leaders of the Pharisees. His lessons to them on pride are poignant.
In this passage, Jesus advises the Pharisees and us to seek the lowest place at a banquet to which we may be invited. The advantage is that you may be invited to “move up to a higher position.” Then, Jesus says, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Since his conversation with the Pharisees was most probably about the heavenly banquet, then these words cut to the heart of the matter and tell us how to live here on earth so we can be exalted not by friends but by God in heaven. Being told by God, in heaven, that you’re in too high a place would be a lot more than embarrassing. Then, Jesus gives us a lesson for life: one who lives for the resurrection of the righteous should invite not the wittiest or richest or closest friends to their home but rather the poor and lame. If you do, then God, our Father, who cares for the poor, will reward you.
Moving on to the following week, the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time’s first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. There, the lesson against pride asks us to reflect on human thought. When people convene to make plans (think of the best and brightest government committees) the results tend to be as unwise and unsure now as they were in the second century BC. We, humans, can hardly figure out things of this world very well. How about the things of heaven? The answer is: we have nothing to be proud about unless we seek out God’s Wisdom humbly.
The second reading is from Paul’s Letter to Philemon. Philemon’s slave runs away and finds Paul who is in prison. The slave, Onesimus, helps Paul and wants to stay with him. Paul, rather, sends him back with this letter. That, in itself, is a lesson against pride. In the letter, Paul asks Philemon to send Onesimus back to Paul so he could continue to help him. That would also teach a lesson to Philemon. The man whom he used as a slave is coming back as a brother. Pride creates inequities in human society that lead to evils in the world. Christ makes us equals and partners in the Kingdom.
Turning to the Gospel, Jesus urges us to count the cost of our deeds here on earth. People laugh at rich people who build without having enough money to finish their projects and pity kings who go to war without enough soldiers. If we’re seeking eternal life, the correct price to pay is to carry our crosses and follow the Lord. We may very well be ridiculed at first. But, that is the cost of discipleship. It also includes being able to leave family if necessary. It may involve giving up our own lives. It certainly involves renouncing all our possessions. We are to live as if everything we have belongs to God. When we do, it is then that we can experience the joyful feeling of God’s love coming to abide with us.
The first reading of the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time is from Exodus. Moses is on top of Mount Sinai. In the middle of his ecstasy God interrupts to tell Moses of the depravity of his people who have fashioned a molten calf and are worshiping it. God informs Moses that he would destroy the Israelites and make Moses’ family a great nation. That would be a big fat temptation to anyone. Moses rejects it and rather begs for his people to be forgiven. Here, we have a sublime example of the right way to pray. Moses had been united with God and his people at the Passover. He would not exalt himself. Thus, God accepted Moses’ prayer for Israel to be spared of God’s punishment. Moses knew his place in relationship with God and his people. Such is the attitude that defeats pride.
The beginning of Paul’s first Letter to Timothy serves as the second reading. He describes himself as formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and arrogant. This begs the question as to how he came to change. The simple answer is that he met Jesus as he was on his way to Damascus. What he truly met on the road and experienced in the Christian community at Damascus was God’s divine mercy to him. He was loved into a new relationship with God. The main point is that while we were still sinners Christ loved us. To do away with pride we need to develop a good relationship with Christ. As with Paul in Damascus, we need to develop a good relationship with our local parish.
This Sunday’s Gospel contains two memorable parables: The Lost Sheep and The Prodigal Son. The sheep and the son were both lost in themselves. They were proud. The shepherd left 99 other sheep to find the lost one. The father never forgot his lost son; but he gave him the time to find himself. Having lost his money and respectability in the foreign country, the young man finds himself. He realized he is the son of a loving father. The famine shattered his pride, allowing salvation to come by means of his humble return to his father. The same can happen to us.
On the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time our readings continue the lesson in humility. The prophet Amos attacks those who would destroy the poor. They would extend the work days by eliminating religious feast days and Sabbaths. They would fix their scales to cheat and add refuse to the bags of grain they would sell. It’s not so far from what happens to this day. And so the promise of God still prevails, “never will I forget a thing they have done.” Unfair business practices are a form of pride. They also are a source of their own destruction. They generate hatred as they divide society and the world into haves and have-nots. It led to the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and could do the same to us if we do not repent.
We return to Paul’s first Letter to Timothy for the second reading. Paul urges all Christians to pray. He emphasizes that the men should pray, lifting up holy hands. Our pride may very well be decreased if we tried to make our hands holy. That would involve helping others by lifting burdens that overwhelm our neighbors and by shaking hands with those whom we need to be reconciled. And, we need to pray without anger or argument. Anger is manifestation of pride. Many think it is a sign of strength. Some would even call it a form of patriotism. Rather, anger divides a nation or a people and is a cardinal sin. If pride is to be conquered, so must anger.
We now return to Luke for another parable. This Sunday it is the Parable of The Dishonest Steward. The surprise in the story is the credit for being clever that the master gives to the steward who has effectively robbed him of as much as 50 percent of what was owed him. Is Jesus giving credit to those who squander other peoples’ money? Not at all. However, the steward did happen upon a principle that good people should learn. Before our Lord and Master’s second coming, we should be giving away some of our wealth to the poor. That money isn’t really ours anyway. It’s God’s. But, we can use it now to help our case before the Lord, who will be coming to judge us. In that way, giving to the needy is a practice of humility. We know that we should not be found at our death with too much leftover money.
Finally, we come to the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday of September. Amos is, again, our first reading. God names his opponent in the first line of his pronouncement. It is ‘the complacent.’ These are those stretched out on their ivory beds eating expensive meats, playing jazz, and drinking rare wines. They remain unaffected by the collapse of their neighbors in the Kingdom of Israel. To be humble includes being affected by our neighbors’ needs. We should be sensitive to those around us who lack what they need to survive. Our mood must be affected by their hurts so much that we are lead to do something about it.
Returning to Paul’s Letter to Timothy we cannot but be moved by the words describing how we should live. Once pride is removed those words would describe our lives. We would be living in faithful, patient love and gentleness. Furthermore, we would be expecting the appearance of our Lord. He will show us the Father. What a great reason to strive for a life free of pride.
The last Gospel for this month contains Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. This parable typifies the message of all 15 of this month’s scripture passages. As we all know, the poor Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man to hell. Our lesson is to be aware of poverty. It is there begging just outside our gates. Now, the rich man begs from his place of eternal misery. He asks that his brothers be notified of what is really happening. Abraham’s response is that they wouldn’t listen even if someone returned from the dead to warn them. We all know Jesus has risen from the dead and has warned us. Will we all learn the lessons about pride?
Father Joseph Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.