On Pride and Humility

I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about humility in the past year or so. Longer than a year actually. I’m a junior in college now, and I’ve been pondering humility since maybe my senior year in high school. A while back, I started praying for it.

But what was I actually praying for? To be honest, I had no idea, not then. (And do I really know now? Probably not completely.) I just knew it was a good thing to pray for.

Humility is the opposite of pride. Having humility doesn’t mean that you have to put yourself down all the time or something like that. And of course it’s fine for you to feel good about yourself and to have self-confidence. I think that what separates self-confidence from pride is one simple concept: Truth.

Maybe you do really well in math class. You don’t have to internally pretend that you are bad at math for the sake of humility. The truth is that you’re good at math. And you can be self-confident about that. Self-confidence becomes pride when you somehow think that you’re a more worthwhile human being due to your talent in math, that you’re above others. The truth is that all are equal before God and that your skills in math are gifts from God.

This sort of pride is easy to recognize in our own lives. I think that the majority of easily-recognizable sins tend to be indicative of some deeper spiritual issue. What I mean is, feeling cocky about your talents is just scratching the surface of the abyss that is pride.

When I was a freshman in college, I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity over a break. I was particularly struck by this passage about pride and humility:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, 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.

This passage has been fermenting in my mind since then. I was surprised that C.S. Lewis considered pride the most central sin of the entire spiritual life. What could he mean by that? In the past couple of years, I’ve been observing my sins to see if they’re rooted in pride. And 9 times out of 10, they are. More like 99 out of 100, or even 999/1000. Or maybe straight-up 100%.

Take judgment, for example. When we think poorly of others it’s usually because we think we’re better than another in some moral aspect (Oh, the irony!). And somehow, we pridefully think that we can judge like God judges. That doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize when others sin; we just have to remember that we sin too, so it’s not like the sins of others somehow elevate us.

I think that pride also prevents us from taking advantage of all the gifts God wants to give us. God wants us to be able to trust in Him and to cast all our burdens upon Him. As Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Pride can prevent us from trusting in God enough to leave Him in charge of our problems. It’s prideful to think that God can’t possibly handle our problems better than us.

The moral of the story is, pray for humility, or the ability to see yourself accurately, in Truth.

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Judgment and Evangelization

I’m not precisely sure what my goal is for this post. I haven’t fully reached any conclusions about the issues I’m going to raise, hut I think this topic is worth thinking about: how people perceive us and how that impacts our evangelization efforts.

For a long time, I never gave a second thought to how non-Catholics (who knew I was Catholic) viewed me. I was aware of the prejudices some people have against Catholicism, but the people I was dealing with are reasonable people: they wouldn’t have those prejudices, right?

Upon further reflection, I think many do have these prejudices, but they are either too polite to verbalize anything or don’t really realize that they’re making assumptions. Honestly, “assumptions” is a much better word for my purposes than “prejudices.” The term “prejudices” implies some sort of malicious intent, which often isn’t the case. People are very subtly fed lies about the Catholic Church by the media and the secular world at large. (I think this is also a reason why many people in my age group are turned away from the Church; we are exposed to a great deal of secular media all the time, and if you aren’t well-versed in your faith, it’s easy to be fooled by lies, often unintentionally told, about the Church.)

What do I think is one of the biggest problems plaguing innocent Catholics who are trying to evangelize? The perception that Catholicism is somehow inherently judgmental. We certainly can learn from this perception; after all, I don’t think that perceptions come from nowhere. Some Catholics are blatantly judgmental. Many of us can think or act judgmentally without knowing it. Also, the mere act of striving for sainthood might give you a “holier-than-thou” image.

We want people to know we’re Catholic, right, so that we can witness to them? But the minute you say you’re Catholic, people start subconsciously assuming things. In the past, I used to basically be like, “Hi, my name is <my name here> and I’m Catholic!” because I am so excited about my faith. Bad idea, guys. Let them know you’re normal first. Make sure they find out for themselves what type of person you are before you say you’re Catholic. Then, when they find out you’re Catholic, it might challenge the perceptions they have about our faith.

 

Oftentimes people whom I know swear will clean up their language around me. Guys, it’s really not necessary; it’s sweet of you, but I can handle it. I’ve even had one person say to me, “I tend to cuss a lot. I know you’re Catholic; will you be offended if I cuss around you?” I honestly don’t understand these situations well. Do people think I’ll judge them if they swear? Do people think I’m some goodie-two-shoes whom they can’t relate to? Either way, for the sake of evangelization, I’d rather be perceived as (and authentically be) non-judgmental and relatable. Amusingly, some people will accidentally say something scandalous (not really that scandalous) around me, and then they’ll look over to me first in a kind of panicked way. I try my best to just laugh it off. If I’m silent with regards to what they said, I automatically seem judgmental. If it were super scandalous and harmful, it would make sense to say something, but usually it isn’t that bad.

I feel like I’ve been doing something right lately because people swear around me now and talk about being drunk. Seriously, this is a good sign! I know there’s some irony in that, but it shows that people don’t think I’m going to judge them.

To an extent, we can’t really do anything about how people perceive us based on our Catholic identity. But here’s what I think we can do:

  1. We can pray for humility so that we are authentically not as judgmental. We can also pray to be self-aware enough to realize when we are being judgmental. Good for the soul as well as evangelization.
  2. We can always give people the benefit of the doubt. I think that the more we realize how broken we are and the more we experience our own hard times, the more we realize how much people’s circumstances impact their actions.
  3. We can genuinely love others even if we disagree with their lifestyle choices.

In summary, don’t be this guy:

Matthew 7:3

Matthew 7:3

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