Pride and Humility
Today’s Gospel is the well-known Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14). The teaching behind this parable is that God resists the proud, but He gives His grace to the humble. Humility is the key to Heaven. Lucifer, or the Devil, lost his place in Heaven because of his pride, and it is said that his place was given to St Francis of Assisi because of his great humility.
So what is humility? Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues and it’s a disposition of heart in which we recognise our own poverty and our own weakness before God. And this should have two effects on us. Firstly, we should learn to rely on God alone, and realise that without Him we have no strength at all. The second effect should be that we learn to be meek and merciful to others, as we ourselves are in profound need of mercy.
Pride is the exact opposite of humility. It is a disposition that ignores our own poverty and weakness. We think we are very important and better than others, which makes us rely entirely on ourselves. We think we can be good and holy by our own means, forgetting that we need God’s grace. We become very critical of other people and show them no mercy, because we believe we have no need of mercy ourselves.
This is what we see in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Two men go up to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee was so blinded by pride that he couldn’t see his true state and his sins. He thought so highly of himself and boasted about his good works. “O God, I give You thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.” He then lists what he perceived to be his virtues. He believed he had no need of God’s mercy, and therefore he didn’t receive it. But then the publican saw his true state, and not even daring to raise his eyes to Heaven and beating his breast, confessed his sins before God. “O God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He acknowledged that he was in need of God’s mercy, and so he received what he asked for.
This is what we should strive to imitate – the publican’s virtue of humility. Recognise our own weaknesses and how many times we have failed. Then we should not rely on our own strength but on God’s grace. Again, St Francis of Assisi, if he heard of someone who had fallen into a serious sin would say, “I too could fall in the same way or perhaps even worse if it were not for the help of God’s grace.” Then we must learn to be compassionate towards the weaknesses of others, and if we humble ourselves in this way, Our Lord will exalt us. In other words, we will attain a high place in Heaven.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC