Q: Dear Father Edward, would you be willing to post the virtues to overcome the root sins of vanity and pride also?
A: Whole libraries could be written on how to overcome pride. Pride is the mother of all root sins. Take any sin and you can ultimately trace its roots back to pride. This vice arises because of a deep-seated desire to do things our way.
Whereas vanity puts too much emphasis on the esteem of others, and sensuality stresses the love of comfort, pride puts the limelight on one’s self. A proud person is the center of his universe. Pride can manifest itself in myriad ways. One example is perfectionism, where a person gets caught up in his own work and goes to great lengths to prove himself. The perfectionist works hard for his own glory, but not for the glory of God.
Pride can also show itself in an inordinate desire for control. A proud person might want to control every aspect of his life, and even the lives of others (including one’s adult children). A proud person loves to have the last word. He might find it hard to listen respectfully to others’ views.
Another manifestation is an exaggerated tendency toward independence and individualism. This is common in cultures that place great value on self-sufficiency. Not infrequently this love of independence and individualism is a disguise for selfishness: Deep down the proud person doesn’t really care about the good of others. He doesn’t call it selfishness, of course. He calls it “tolerance” or “having respect for others’ privacy.”
Pride also shows itself in anger and criticism. A proud person might judge everyone else to be a fool. The proud one might get easily annoyed when contradicted by others. He might turn to insincerity and lying to cover up his mistakes. He might have an inability to ask for or offer forgiveness. The prideful person might be unwilling to serve others, might show impatience or brusqueness toward others. Self-love of a proud person leads him to nurse grudges, to rebel against legitimate authority, to exhibit inflexibility. Indifference to other’s needs or feelings isn’t uncommon. A proud person might be a master manipulator, steering conversations (and even whole nations) toward his interests.
What are the remedies for pride? For openers, the proud person must cultivate a deep sense of humility. He needs to recognize that all the gifts in his life come from God. The proud person must understand his own smallness; he is nothing without God’s grace. The prideful person must also recognize his sinfulness, and that this sinfulness rules out any kind of boasting.
Such a person needs to remind himself constantly of the love and mercy and patience that Christ has shown him. Christ died on a cross for each of us. The prideful person then needs to realize that he is called to imitate Christ’s love and mercy and patience toward other people. After all, they too are made in the image of God and are deserving of respect.
Since pride takes many forms, a person has to recognize how this vice manifests in his life, and then work on the opposite virtue. If he has a hard time listening to others, he has to work on the habit of letting others have the last word in a conversation. If he is prone to anger, he has to work on patience, preferably with very specific people (a wife, a co-worker, an in-law, etc.). If a person tends to be obsessed with his own needs, he might need to get involved in charitable organizations. Whatever the manifestations of pride, it is necessary to get to work on battling them right away. Pride tends to grow tougher with age, so there is no time like the present to get to work. Best of God’s graces to you!
Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC
Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.