Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Despicable Me

I have been going through the chapters of my book Idol Thoughts on Wednesdays, on the eight thoughts that lead us away from God, that are in simple fact ‘other gods’, other ways of seeking happiness in this world.

We have come to the eighth thought, the granddaddy of them all, that is pride. In the book I liken pride to the ‘big bad’ in the modern crime movie—the villain who is at work directing all the lesser villains who are merely his minions (Despicable Me! But these minions aren't quite so cute and loveable...).

Pride is like that with the other seven thoughts—all of them essentially tend towards pride or spring from pride, and are strengthened in us by the amount of pride we have. As the Eucharist is the source and summit of divine life in us, so pride is the source and summit of all that is death in us.

Pride, fundamentally, consists in exalting ourselves above our true place. The Latin word for it, superbia, communicates that well—basically, ‘over-ness.’ When we consider ourselves to be more than we are, that is the simple form of pride.

Simple, but what complex forms it takes in all of us. There are the crude forms of pride, easy enough to recognize—dominance, arrogance, bombastic crude power trips. But it can be, and usually is, much more subtle in us.

There is the quiet steady assumption that we are always right, that our judgments, our way, our take on things are simply reality. God is the One whose word fashions the universe, who spoke and it came to be. It is a terrible arrogation of the divine prerogative when we believe our own ‘words’, spoken or interior, actually are the first and last word of what is.

There is self-centredness, which has a hundred faces. There is the steady consistent reference of all things in our lives back to ourselves—everything in this world considered and evaluated on the sole basis of ‘how it affects me’. In properly spiritual matters, I see this when people say they ‘like’ this Scripture passage or they ‘don’t like’ that one, for whatever reason. But the Bible is the Word of God—it is verging on, if not outright, blasphemy to speak of it that way – this Word of God is great, that one not so much, and so forth…

Pride is a tricky, subtle thing, and none of us should ever imagine we are free of it. It is a shape-shifter in the soul, but always singing the same tune: I-me-mine-I-me-mine… always putting ourselves at the center of all things.

And of course it is then the secret source of the strength and persistence of the other seven thoughts. God has laid out for us a way of happiness and blessed life in this world. The path of love received and given, life received and given, the human person made to be a receptacle of divine life, and in that receiving becoming a lover of all creation as God is the Lover of all.

Pride looks at all that outpouring of divine life and love and says, “Yeah, no thanks. I have a better idea! Seven better ideas, in fact.” And off we go on the paths of gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, despondency, acedia, vainglory. All the alternative plans for happiness that don’t involve all this silly God business (does He even exist, anyhow?).

Pride seems very alluring and compelling. Well of course we are the center of our own life—what else is possible? It’s only human to put yourself first in the order of things! What else can we do, and why would we? Isn’t it pathological to efface oneself and put anything else ahead of one’s own being?

Such is pride’s story when it is hauled out into the clear light of day and forced to defend itself. And it is a load of hooey. The truth is, we are made by God, made for God, made essentially for a life of communion with God, receiving and giving, giving and receiving. And out of that, loving, loving, loving our neighbors as the duties of our state of life direct us. The ‘self’ is simply that which exists to be this place of reception and seat of action, the necessary ‘I’ which can enter into communion with the divine ‘Thou’, and thence with all other ‘thous’ we encounter.

And in this, we are truly exalted, truly elevated above our station, but by God, not by our own efforts. We enter into and become sharers in the life of the Trinity, the very life of God made accessible to us in Jesus Christ. Pride, which is all about self-exaltation, actually closes us up in ourselves and dooms us to a small, narrow, constricted little life bounded by our own limitations and ambit… and we really are very small little creatures, it turns out.

The only way to actually climb the ladder of being and become a ‘Great Person’ is to embrace the radical humility of the gift, to paradoxically accept that we are nothing, can do nothing, have nothing of our own… and in that find ourselves mysteriously opened to the one who is Everything and gives us everything He is. And our lives become in that humility and that openness an entry into the Dance of Love which is the very inner life of the Trinity—radical exaltation following upon radical abasement and self-emptying.

As I always say at the end of these Wednesday posts, I actually have quite a bit more to say about all this, but then you wouldn’t buy my book if I said it all here, would you? So you can read the rest of my thoughts here. Have a great day!

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