Sunday, February 14, 2016

Pride - Homily for the 1st Sunday in Lent

We are now in that holy season of Lent, a season of repentance and sacrifice and of growth. At the same time, we are also within the Year of Mercy. Put them together and we have a remarkable moment of grace. 

When we talk about the Year of Mercy, we must note that it is not simply the Year of Forgiveness. Mercy has a deeper meaning than that. For example, not only does God forgive us, but he enters into our very lives, even experiencing the temptations that we experience. He didn’t have to do that. But He did. That’s mercy. 

For the next few weeks of Lent, I want to preach about how Jesus enters into our lives to free us and raise us up from the Seven Deadly sins. Since this is the Year of Mercy, it is helpful to consider why we need mercy. 

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So, we begin: St. Augustine notes that at the heart of every sin is pride. We sin because we think we need it or it’s going to make us happy or because, well, why not? Don’t I deserve happiness? 

So, for example: in the Garden of Eden, the devil appealed to pride in order to tempt Adam and Eve. Don’t you want to become like gods? he said. 

It’s a very subtle temptation. (Of course we want to become like Gods!) Well then, take the apple and eat it. Don’t think about whether it is actually right or wrong. Don’t really think about God here. I mean, you’re an important person. You’re an adult. You’re independent, right? You can think for yourself…. 

(Ahem, even though the devil is really doing the thinking for them.) 

So, notice: the devil is not so brazen as to start off the conversation by saying that we don’t need God. That would be too stark. Instead, he is subtle and he subtly appeals to our pride: Aren’t you important? 

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Pride is like a balloon that is inflated. As the balloon is inflated, the balloon becomes larger and larger, but its skin becomes weaker and weaker. All it takes is for one little word of correction, one little thorn of humiliation, and the prideful person pops into an explosion of emotion, usually anger, then typically turns to gluttony and drunkenness or the other sins and eventually doubt. The doubt crystallizes and becomes indifference. 

Pride eventually crosses its arms and says, “I don’t need a savior. I have no sins. I don’t need to go to confession. I’m OK.” 

Because to admit otherwise would be humiliating. 

For example, just this morning at Monsignor’s 8:45 Mass, I was scheduled to come and help with Holy Communion. But I totally lost track of the time. (Liverpool vs. Aston Villa—what can I say?). So it’s 9:30 when I realize that I am totally late. I run over to church and they are in the Lamb of God. I put on my white surplice and my stole and I have to walk up the center aisle and everybody sees that I’m late. 

It was humiliating. 

And on the day that I talk about pride. Go figure. 

It’s humiliating to face our weakness, to admit that we don’t have it all together. When we are sick in the body, for example, it’s humbling.  We realize who we are: that we are dependent on others, that we are mortal. That, ultimately, we need a savior. 

That’s Lent, right? Just five days into it, we’ve made a mess of things. I mean, did anyone else eat bacon on Friday? Am I the only one?… That’s humbling. I have come to realize that Lent is not simply a self-improvement plan that I do independently from God. Lent is a time when I realize how dependent I am on him. I see my spiritual sickness and I realize that, without Him, I can do nothing. 

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It is important, then, to highlight the differences between the prideful person and the humble person. 

The prideful person, cannot take it when things don’t go their way. They easily become grumpy and irritable and discouraged; whereas the humble person is hopeful and joyful. Humility is the ability to laugh.

The prideful person is narcissistic and easily becomes greedy, gluttonous, lustful, and envious. They are worried about comforts, achievements, and their reputation. They don’t trust God, so they rarely pray. Instead, they are focused on their own comings and goings, and become anxious and restless, almost to the point of becoming neurotic. They are busy. They are the modern-day slaves. 

The humble person, on the other hand, is peaceful and versatile and can live happily whether rich or poor; in sickness or in health. They know they are weak, so they are not scandalized when they fall into sin or when their Lenten fasts disintegrate within five days—Indeed, they know well how much they need the mercy of the all-powerful God.

After all, Jesus himself became familiar with our weaknesses. That is the Mercy of God: that Jesus enters into the Desert of our lives and our weaknesses and the temptations we endure. Jesus, who could have been prideful and shown His power, remains humble and so shows His power. It is the Cross: the powerful humility of the victorious, liberating Cross!

Humility. That is our strongest weapon. The devil knows nothing of humility. The devil thinks it is weakness and foolishness. And because he knows nothing of humility, the devil knows of no way to defend against it.

Humility is the strongest weapon we have against the devil.

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And so, a final thought: this past year, I had the privilege of being at the bedside of a man who was dying. He a good and peaceful man. Of all the people that I’ve sent to our Lord for their eternal reward, I was most certain I was sending him to heaven. 

But do you know what his last words were? “Father, I hope I have a good judgment.”

In his final hour, he was still hoping for mercy. And he would receive it. For by his humility, the devil would be rendered weak. Through humility, the man would receive God’s mercy.

Brothers and sisters, pride is the surest way to hell; humility is the surest way to heaven.

Let us therefore offer that powerful and vulnerable prayer: "Lord, make me humble!"

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