In my attempts to dialogue about the Catholic faith with charity and respect, to help others feel seen and heard, and to treat differences of opinion with a sympathetic, analytical mindset, it’s easy for me to believe I’m immune to pride.
But that outlook is, in itself, prideful.
The Pharisees, in Scripture, seem so different from me on the surface: confrontational, rule-bound, unmerciful. And yet, when I consider the deeper implications of their attitude, I see the painful similarities to my own bad habits, particularly in regard to comparison and pride.
As my husband and I planned our wedding, we’d pat ourselves on the back for spending thousands less than wedding websites said a typical celebration would cost. As I cut sugar and flour from my diet in the month before the big day, I hoped family and friends would admire my fashion savvy and my looking thinner in the strapless ballgown I couldn’t wait to wear.
As we entered into newlywed life and, later, into parenthood, I’d mentally congratulate our willingness to travel and explore our new state when we could’ve stayed home instead, and our first child’s behavior he was calm and occupied in public.
What is it that distinguishes pride from being proud of yourself? Certainly, it’s not bad to spend within your means, to approach your appearance in a healthy way, to cultivate a fulfilling life and to parent attentively. But what about the areas of our wedding in which we overspent? What about the times my husband and I just didn’t feel like doing something social media-worthy? What about the times our baby fussed or struggled while we were out?
When I look at the root of these occasions, I see a desire for others to perceive me favorably, rather than a desire to be an instrument of the Father’s gifts.
I recognize the sense of underlying comparison, as if my choices make me superior, as if they define me, rather than just existing as choices. In my pride, I see the times in which can’t deny I’ve valued the earthly over the divine--a priority of myself above all else. How far I have to grow.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Christ condemns the Pharisees as “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “actor.”
Actors in ancient Greek theatre wore masks. When I consider my temptations to comparison and pride, I’m forced to confront the masks I want to wear: that my husband and I have a good relationship and have our lives together, that my appearance can garner attention, that my children’s good behavior is a direct reflection of my parenting. Again, these desires aren’t all inherently bad, yet in my desire to let them define me and to help others see me in the best light, I see the Pharisee in me, and I am humbled.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Saint Augustine in describing humility; the virtue of rightly understanding our nature and identity within the order of creation: “Man,” wrote Augustine, “is a beggar before God.”
Have you experienced similar thought patterns as mine--the belief that the choices you make in your engagement and marriage need to reflect well on you, and the fall into pride? Recognizing the masks we wear hurts; removing them is painful. When I remind myself I am seen, and accepted by the Lord in this journey of growth even without my masks, I find myself consoled and encouraged to live more authentically. More humbly. To examine the roots of my desires and strive to align them with God’s glory, not my own.
This week, I encourage you to examine your own desires: do you want to achieve them to draw attention to yourself, or to Christ within you? I can assure you that I’m right there alongside you, trying always to break my habits of comparison and to pursue greater humility. In our rawness and weakness, we are loved all the same.