Sat, 5 October 2019
Adult Education, Class Two: Pride
Some Scripture to get us started:
Proverbs 16:18. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
1 Corinthians 13:4. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Galatians 6:1-3. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.
Philippians 2:3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
James 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
James 4:10. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Pride: A Noetic Effect of the Fall.
What effect do we have on others? Is it like St. Peter’s? Do we walk in the midst of broken people bringing them healing? Do others, recognizing the potency of our peace, go out of their way just to be in our shadow? Have we achieved any degree of the kind of purity and goodness – the kind of peaceful spirit – that will, as St. Seraphim of Sarov intimates, lead to the salvation of thousands?
I have to be honest with you, even when that honesty might be troubling: when it comes to everything that is important on this earth, when it comes to the things that really matter in our daily lives, in the life of our families, this parish and this community, and in the entire course of cosmic history, there are only two types of people in this world:
Saint Peter was part of the solution (healing of Aeneas; raising of Dorcas; his shadow!). That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when he was more affected by his own pride and the expectations of others than a commitment to do what was good and right; but by the time the events described in Acts 5 & 9 roll around, he wasn’t just occasionally doing what was good and right (as he had before), he had become good and right. So good that Christ and the Holy Spirit worked amazing miracles through him.
Don’t we want to be part of what Peter had? To bring hope to the hopeless, healing to the hurt, and life to the dead?
If so, then we must give our lives to Christ. We must open our hearts to the Holy Spirit. We must train our feelings, our minds, and our wills to want only those things that are holy and good. All other things will pollute us and make unsuitable for salvation – much less for the salvation of the creatures and creation around us.
The polluted person is not part of the solution. Pollution is the thing we need to end. The polluted person is part of the problem. Pollution comes in many forms (here I speak not of factories and cars and the like, but of the soul); and the great difficulty of living in this world is that it celebrates impurity, makes it seem normal, even good.
We have to keep ourselves pure. We have to keep our families pure. We especially have to keep our parish pure. The Church is where people come to be healed. But what good is a hospital that is full of germs? Whose doctors and nurses and orderlies have not washed their hands? The Church is where people come to be cleansed, but what kind of cleansing comes when the parish water has been fouled? The Church is the palace of the Prince of Peace, where people come to calm their souls and bring an end to divisions, but what kind of peace can we offer if we war among ourselves?
It is so easy to become part of the problem. Our pride is set up for it. The brilliance of our minds works overtime justifying our selfish motivations and excusing our bad behavior. Our minds are the best PR guys we could ever get, the kind of salesman that could sell snow to eskimos. The kind of guy that every elected official wants around to explain why his policies and actions are the very best. The problem is that our minds use this skill to convince us that we are saints, that our every motivation is noble, and our every action was required by the situation at hand.
Psychologists and neuroscientists have found that this is the default setting for our moral “decision making”: we instinctively do things, then our minds kick in to explain why we do (or rather, should do!) them. Very few moral decisions are the result of choice or discernment – no matter what the PR guy in our head tells us. This is bad because our instincts are often flawed. They must be trained. This requires humility and effort. It’s a lot easier to just let the cheerleader in our brains tell us how great we already are.
But if we take the easy way, we will be part of the problem and we will make it harder for those who are actually trying to help (the ones who, unlike us, are not part of the problem) to do their job.
This can even happen in our parishes. The description of the power of St. Peter’s shadow came right after the condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira, the two who threatened to contaminate the Apostolic Church with their selfishness. The indicator of the problem in their hearts was that they gave some money to the church, but held more back (unnecessarily). Today’s reading comes right after Simon Magus tried to buy the Holy Spirit so that he could do the same kind of wonders that the apostles did.
Can you imagine the way the PR people in their heads spun their motivations and actions? Ananias and Sapphira probably considered themselves so generous! I am sure they had all kinds of sweet-sounding justifications for not supporting the ministry of the Church with all their time, talents and treasures. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned them and they died in their sin. Simon Magus’s mind may have told him that he only wanted this power to help others; that he would use it to ease people’s pain. Don’t we all? And yet the truth condemned him. His error was so great that he is one of the greatest arch-villians in the history of salvation. He even has an entire category of sin – Simony – named after him.
We have good intentions. We want to be part of the solution. We want to do good. That is why we are here. But we cannot trust our instincts – even if we call them beautiful names like “my conscious” or “my heart” or “my feelings” (we cannot trust your instincts!) – to guide us. Nor can we trust our brains to discern what is right. Our instincts will point us in the wrong direction and our minds will convince us we are exactly where we should be and right around the corner from where we are going. The PR guy in our brains will tell us how good we are and provide all kinds of infallible evidence to support this claim.
But we are not good. There is only one that is good, and that is Christ. We must trust Him (not ourselves). We have to let go of our instincts and justifications and start over. Let the Holy Spirit – found so powerfully not in our feelings but actually manifested in the teachings of the Church – strengthen and guide us.
This is important. You are here today, and that is a good beginning. But it is not enough. Through humility, let the Lord’s peace and power replace your pride. Through your prayer rule and study, let the wisdom of God retrain your mind to be an advocate for truth rather than a cheerleader for sin (and not just a way to learn new words to write your own hagiography), and then, let the peace and power that passes all understanding transform your life, and from there to transform this world.
If we do this, then we will become – as St. Peter was - a part of the solution.