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XVI Sunday after Pentecost

Epistle: Ephesians 3:13–21
Gospel: Luke 14:1–11

Collect: Let Thy grace, we beseech The, O Lord, ever go before us and follow us, and may it make us to be continually zealous in doing good works.

Is there a vice which God must hate more than pride?

It was pride that brought down Satan and the other apostate angels.

It was pride that brought down the entire human race in our First Parents.

Pride turned angels into devils, turned Paradise into this vale of tears. What does pride do to your interior landscape? Your soul?

Pride is worse than the sins of the flesh, for sins of the soul are of a higher order than fleshly, material failings. It is the beginning of other capital or spiritually lethal sins, for it begets, as the venerable Baltimore Catechism says, “sinful ambition, vainglory, presumption and hypocrisy.”  St. Bernard (+1153) taught that pride is the ruin of all virtues and the origin of all vices.

In our Gospel reading for Sunday we hear the account in Luke 14 of the healing of the dropsical man. Dropsy, a greatly underused medical term along with biliousness, grip and collywobbles, is short for hydropsy, which is edema, that is, the abnormal accumulation of fluids in the soft tissues. Dropsy makes your limbs and face puff up, even severely. A person can develop edema, become dropsical, due to, among other things, congestive heart failure, the inability of the heart to circulate the amount of blood needed to prevent fluid from leaking from capillaries into tissues. Spiritual writers have interpreted the dropsy of the man in Luke as a symbol of pride. The Lord heals him and then sends him away.

Pride is a spiritual illness more serious than any physical malady. If you have a problem with your heart, such as congestive heart failure, you need a heart doctor. If you have a heart swollen from pride, you require a Sacred Heart Doctor. If you swiftly seek help for a physically failing heart, how much more urgent is action needed if you have the more serious spiritually failing heart?

It is when our hearts fail that we sin, for we have chosen not to love God in the way we were made to love Him: we choose to love something less.

When we examine our consciences before confession – GO TO CONFESSION! – how far do we go? To make a really good examination, we have to be willing to get into the dark spaces, to find what is behind that other thing, that distraction from the real problem. The image is clear in my mind right now, since I just moved some things in the garage that hadn’t been moved for a while. It’s amazing what scurrying activity the light of day can incite. To move that stuff took some resolve. If you don’t have a garage, think of the back your refrigerator. When something is wrong in there, you are eventually compelled to do something about it. How much more the putrescence that results from rotting pride and its attendants?

The problem is that, with pride, though it reeks before God, saints and angels – and our neighbors too, who usually see right through us – the Enemy of the soul is there with all sorts of distractions, shadows and even over-powering air fresheners precisely to prevent you from dealing with the foundational malady.

When Our Lord healed the dropsical man, He was in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath, a time when all works were forbidden by law. The dropsical man was present at the meal, purposely on display, as it were: “And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy” (v. 2). He must have been obviously dropsical, very bad off indeed, noticeable. Would the famous healer, heal him on the sabbath? To heal was to perform a forbidden work, which could get Him into hot water with the authorities. Five times the Lord healed on the sabbath, by the way, that’s how much He loved those in need. The Lord knew that this sabbath meal invitation was a trap, but it was also His opportunity to perform both a corporal work of mercy by healing, as well as a spiritual work of mercy by admonishing: He deflated the dropsical man, so to speak, and then sent him away. Then He deflated the prideful spectators.

At this sabbath meal Our Lord told a mashal, Hebrew for a parable, about a marriage feast. Invited guests have hurried to the places of honor, but their host comes and sends them down to lower places. He then waves someone far down in the pecking order up to a place of honor saying, “Ascende superius… Come a little higher!” the secret motto of many a cleric. With this parable as His starting point, Christ advises His fellow guests not to invite the fancy and the famous to their tables, but rather “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” precisely because they have nothing with which they can repay the favor. The nimshal of the mashal, the twist in the parable that conveys the sometimes counter-intuitive point, is this: it is by being genuinely lowly that we are raised up to real glory. To receive the honor that really matters, and it’s not passing worldly notice or human recompense, give, serve, and do not expect anything. Be low, for our recompense is on high (cf. Matthew 20:16).

St. Gregory I – “the Great” (+604) helpfully lists in his Moralia in Iob (23,5) several degrees of pride, namely:

1) to believe that we have through our own efforts what we have received from God;
2) to believe that we have merited what we have gratuitously received;
3) to attribute to ourselves a good we lack, for example, great learning, when we do not possess it;
4) to wish to be preferred to others and to depreciate them.

Do any of those sound familiar? If we spot any of these blotches in our hearts, we had better seek a remedy, and fast, for we know “neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13) when our hearts will cease to beat.

The spiritual writer Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (+1964) in his Three Ages of the Spiritual Life wrote:

The remedy for pride is to tell ourselves that of ourselves we are not, that we have been created out of nothing by the gratuitous love of God, who continues freely to preserve us in existence; otherwise we would return to nothingness. And if grace is in us, it is because Jesus Christ redeemed us by His blood.

The remedy for pride is also to tell ourselves that there is in us something inferior to nothingness itself: the disorder of sin and its effects. As sinners, we deserve scorn and all humiliations; the saints have thought so, and they certainly judged better than we.

Thomas à Kempis (+1471) wrote in the Imitation of Christ,

Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger. (I, 7)

In our Epistle reading, Paul told us, “have Christ dwelling though faith in your hearts” (Eph 3:17). Our best remedy for the congestive swelling failure of the heart that is pride is, therefore, ultimately what Christ asks us to do. “Learn from me,” He says, “for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

When you sense the swelling dropsy of pride, the catalyst of so many sins, ask especially the help of your holy Guardian Angel and of St Michael, whose mighty shout is “Quis ut Deus? Who is like God?” We sure aren’t, to turn inside-out the pride-riddled lie of the serpent. Call upon the Handmaid of the Lord, who was, as Dante calls her, the humble daughter of her Son (Par 33.1). Say aloud Mary’s mighty anti-pride manifesto, the Magnificat. Listen to her and find a cure for the drum-thumping of your own little failing heart. Learn from the beating of the holy Hearts, Immaculate and Sacred, and beat the sin of pride.

Finally, consider yourselves admonished by 1 Peter 5:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.

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