Arrogance and Vainglory

(Homily for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

For people who are not Christians, one of the hardest things to understand is why we consider pride to be a sin. In our contemporary culture people generally use the word "pride" in a positive sense. For example, it is a good thing to take pride in ones work. It means to strive for excellence. We all prefer a mechanic who takes pride in his work and we encourage our young people to take pride in who they are and what they do.

We also use the word to signify a type of gratitude, for instance, to take pride in ones country. I am proud of being an American because I recognize the achievements and benefits of my country. That pride - up to a certain point - can actually be a form of humility because whatever goodness pertains to the United States has almost nothing to do with my tiny contribution, but is something I have received as a gift. Pride in ones country, ones family, ones parish is - up to a certain point - a form of gratitude and humility.*

Pride in the sense of acknowledging a gift a received and of striving for excellence is obviously a very positive thing. However, in the Bible the word pride has a different sense. The great English writer Dorothy Sayers expressed well the biblical meaning of pride: "It is the endeavor to be 'as God,' making self instead of God, the center about which the will and desire revolve." The Latin word for this is Suberbia which can be translated as "arrogance." Miss Sayers continues: "In its narrower and more specific sense pride exhibits itself as Vainglory (Vana Gloria) - an egotism so overweening that it cannot bear to occupy any place but the first, and hates and despises all fellow creatures out of sheer lust for domination." When Christians speak of pride as the head and root of all sin, they are referring to arrogance and vainglory.

It is against this sense of pride that Sirach and Jesus are fighting in today's readings. When Sirach says, "What is too sublime for you, seek not," he is not discouraging study and research, but combating a certain type of arrogance: You may have authority in one field, say education, but that does not make you an expert in medicine or economics. Know your limitations. Jesus goes a bit further. He tells us to "take the lowest place." Someone who took that admonition very seriously was St. Martin de Porres. He is shown holding a broom because he always sought the humblest jobs in his religious community. That did not prevent his great gifts from eventually shining through. By humbling himself he achieved very great things.

To recognize one's own false pride can be a liberating experience. Many of you remember Charles Colson. He was one of the villains of the Watergate scandal and he went to prison for his crimes. He was an arrogant man who thought he could get away with anything. He once bragged that he would walk over his own grandmother to achieve his goals. In prison Colson read C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. The chapter which struck him the hardest was titled "The Great Sin." In it Lewis explains the sin of pride. When he recognized his arrogance for what it was, Colson knelt down in his prison cell and with an abundance of tears, gave his life over to Christ.

We each in some degree need that liberation. We can easily see the arrogance and vainglory of others, but we have a harder time recognizing our own. One of the windows of our church is dedicated to St. Martin de Porres. Why not ask for his intercession to learn the true meaning of humility?


*Up to a certain point because we have all seen the damage done when a person thinks his family is superior to others. He not only looks down on others, but in the end harms his own family - or country - or parish.

Spanish Version

From Archives (22nd Sunday, Year C):

2013: Why Are We Here?
2010: The Key to the Narrow Gate
2007: The Beauty of Humility
2004: Arrogance and Vainglory
2001: The Guest List
1998: Saved by Grace Alone

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Bulletin (Visit to Peru, New Roof, Catholic Scripture Study)

Mark Shea asks: So what good was accomplished by the Reporter's despicable act of detraction?

Father Vakoc, Catholic hero

The Real Vietnam Scandal?

Terri's Fight Not Over "August 31st is going to be a momentous day in the fight to save Terri Schiavo's life"

Treat Catholics as Muslims

Hiking the Inka Trail

My bulletin column

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(August 2010)

Personal Reflection on New Roman Missal English-Language Translation

My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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