Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility

As recorded by J.D. Bentley February 13th, 2018
Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility

Pride is a sin of unhealthy confidence in one’s own abilities, or excessively respecting oneself for the wrong reasons. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that, "Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals."

Its opposite and its antidote is humility, which is the virtue of seeing oneself accurately and submitting to one’s place in the order of the universe.

Fighting pride inherently means acquiring humility. Humility enables us to see ourselves as we actually are and where we actually are. These are the ways in which we can acquire humility:

By Distrusting Ourselves

Human nature is a fallen nature, which means we tend toward those things which are not good, which are intrinsically disordered. Once we’ve accepted this, then the key to acquiring humility—and any virtue for that matter—is distrusting ourselves. We lie to ourselves and we justify our instincts. Instead, we should interrogate ourselves to find the truth behind our instincts and actions because if we ever feel the inkling to justify something to ourselves there’s probably sin at the root, or at the very least it’s something that probably won’t benefit us.

Lorenzo Scupoli wrote:

"Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory."

By Acknowledging That We Are Dust

Psalm 103:14 says, "For He knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust." And so, too, should we remember that in light of the majesty of God and the scope of the universe and the enormity of time, we are brief infinitesimal blips that spark to life and burn out almost immediately. Against the immensity of God it is impossible to think of ourselves as being greater than we actually are. Constant meditation on our smallness is another key to acquiring humility.

By Obeying Authority

There is no humility without recognizing hierarchy. There are those for which we are responsible and there are those who are responsible for us. There are those above us and those below us. If the universe is ordered (and it is) this is a simple fact. True equality, then, is not flattening the hierarchy, but rather for each man to be able to execute his role in his proper place. The king acting as the best king, the merchant acting as the best merchant, the poet acting as the best poet, the slave acting as the best slave. It is important that we acknowledge and obey the legitimate authorities to which our service has been entrusted. (And "legitimate" is not a matter of personal interpretation, but means anyone who earnestly attempts to execute the role they have inherited, however imperfectly, while not specifically violating or calling you to violate the will of God.) This begins by obeying our parents, who have a natural authority over us. It can also mean obeying law enforcement officers, bosses, teachers, politicians, etc.

By Accepting Humiliation

There is perhaps no better way to acquire humility than through the field work of humiliation. It is the most direct process for acquiring humility, and one that no one particularly wants. It’s a bitter but effective pill and forces the cultivation of the profound self-awareness that reveals our smallness. It is embarrassing and it is painful and it is cringeworthy… and it works.

By Wielding the Spiritual Weapons

I hope to go into these in more detail in future posts, but the acquisition of all virtues can be aided by using the Spiritual Weapons: Worship, Prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, Fasting, the Sacraments, Sacramentals, and Scripture.

Prayer is especially essential in this regard. Too many people pray for material goods and outcomes, but praying to acquire the virtues and to be wholly transformed is the strength of prayer. (Even the pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius knew this.)

A Long Process

We are all prideful to lesser or greater extents. Some are closer to virtue than others, but all of us will be surprised at how prideful we are once we examine ourselves. No matter what, this fight will be a daily fight and a daily choice. Humility—and any other virtue—is not achieved easily or painlessly. Always strive to do better, even if it’s only a little better, even if outwardly it appears that you are a hopeless sinner and doomed to fail spectacularly.

I’m reminded of a story about an Orthodox monk on Mt. Athos in Greece. He was a drunk, and he was drunk every day. His drunkenness was a great scandal to the pilgrims who journeyed to the Holy Mountain and many there thought his presence to be a problem.

It’s terrible to say, but when he died many were relieved that such a "problem" had finally been solved. Those who were delighted went to Elder Paisios (now a saint in Orthodoxy) and announced the news of the monk’s death.

Elder Paisios answered that he knew the man had died because he had watched a battalion of angels come to collect his soul. Hearing such a thing shocked and confused those who had come to tell him. They were sure Elder Paisios did not understand about whom they were speaking and they protested and attempted to explain.

But Elder Paisios knew better, and he explained to the pilgrims:

"This monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction of the Turks when they had gathered all the boys. So that he would not be taken from them, his parents put raki (Turkish alcohol) into his milk so that he would sleep, so that he would not cry. This monk thus grew up an alcoholic. He eventually found a spiritual father and told him of his alcoholism. The spiritual father told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia (which means All Holy in Greek and is a title of the Blessed Virgin) to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.

After a year of struggle and repentance, his 20 glasses became 19. And he struggled every day of every year for many years, eventually reaching 2 to 3 glasses per day, with which he would still get drunk."

What matters is that we work hard to move closer to holiness always. The pilgrims of Mt. Athos had seen a drunken monk, an alcoholic scandalizer.

But, as we know, it doesn’t matter what others see.

God saw the monk as the fighter he was, and this should be our hope also.

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More from "The Seven Deadly Sins" series: