"Now when he had risen from the dead early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had cast seven devils." St. Mark, 16:9.
No doubt many have seen the movie, "King of Kings." Produced years ago by Cecil De Mille, and shown throughout the country, the film is an understanding and respectful life of Christ, the King of kings. Many scenes are dramatic and stirring.
One of the most interesting parts of the play is that which pictures Mary Magdalen meeting our Lord for the first time. She came to Christ - a sinner; she left - a saint. She came - proud, sensual, and vain; she left - humble and mortified. She came - guilty; she left - forgiven. It was intensely interesting to see how this change took place.
Christ merely looks at Mary, looks into her very soul. And that look of our Lord softens her proud heart. She draws back some distance. She cannot bear that sad, loving look. The struggle in her soul is clearly shown in the picture. Each in its turn, the seven deadly sins come in the guise of devils and whisper into the ear of Magdalen. Each in turn is repulsed by her, as she drinks in grace from the gaze of Christ. The devil of pride and the devil of avarice, together with the devils of lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth, are firmly brushed aside. Finally Mary is free of her old tempters. In shame she drops her head. In modesty she covers her half-nude body. She rushes to Christ and falls at His feet. There she secures the forgiveness for which her entire being is crying out.
Like Mary Magdalen, we also are beset and enslaved by at least some if not all of these same death-dealing devils, the seven capital sins. It is not our privilege to look into the physical face of Jesus, as she did. Nevertheless, we can go before Christ present in the tabernacle, and by faith look into His face as He looks into our hearts. We should plan to do just that during this Lent. We want to consider the seven deadly or capital sins. We want to let the grace of God work in us as it did in Magdalen. Gradually we will gain the grace to cast off, as she did, our habits of pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.
We call these the seven capital sins because each is a source and seed from which all other sins proceed. They are the seven principal devils who deal out spiritual death. They are the seven principal diseases of the soul, the causes of all spiritual sickness. Christ drove them out of Mary Magdalen; He will drive them out of us, as we come into His Eucharistic presence during these Lenten days of penance and prayer. May the love of Christ drive out these seven sources of sin - His greatest enemies and our greatest enemies.
1. The first capital sin and leader of them all is pride, which means an unregulated opinion and love of one's own excellence. The proud man considers himself greater and more important than he really is. He thinks he has some greatness which actually does not belong to him. The proud man considers himself more than he is in the eyes of God. He forgets that he is a creature; he forgets that all his gifts have come from God. It is a vice that can creep into any heart.
The following story is told of the famous preacher Abraham of Santa Clara. One day a lady came to him tearfully bewailing the fact that she was the greatest of all sinners. She told the illustrious pulpit orator that no one could compare with her in the number and seriousness of spiritual crimes. The wise Father Abraham knew that this lady was always praying in church. In his good sense and experience with souls he saw at once that this lady was accusing herself and humbling herself, not out of true humility, but from deep-rooted pride. He knew that one who is truly humble does not display her humility. Accordingly he told her:
"It is much to be regretted that you publish the fact that you are such a great sinner. I do not wish to have anything to do with an individual who proclaims herself to be the greatest sinner in the world."At this the would-be humble one became very angry and exclaimed:
"Who can say a word against me? I have done nothing wrong. I spend the greater part of my time in church. I fast frequently, and perform other good works."The preacher smiled, bowed, and left. That woman was proud. She had a high opinion of herself. She considered herself better than others. She displayed one of the signs of pride.
2. Pride shows itself in various ways:
A. By giving to oneself the credit for all the good one has and all the good one does. All our talents, all our blessings, are from God. To Him belongs the credit.3. Pride is definitely a sin:
B. By disobedience to lawful authority, and by insisting on one's own will in everything or most things. In our day of license this is a common occurrence. We do have freedom, but freedom does not mean that we can do anything we want. Obedience to the laws of God's Church and to the laws of the land is still our duty. To consider oneself above such laws and directions and regulations is a mark of the proud man.
C. By stubborn unwillingness to consider or to cooperate with the desires and plans of others. How often we find this type of pride in our homes and places of work. Such a simple thing as planning a picnic may make the proud man or woman insist on what he or she wants as to time and place and food and the form of fun to be enjoyed on that outing.
D. By refusing advice or assistance. Pity the man who will never ask for advice. Double pity on the man who never seeks spiritual or religious advice. Many more Catholics, especially the young, should ask their spiritual leaders, their priests, about their plans with regard to a vocation or to marriage or some other important step in life. The man who tries to travel an unknown wilderness or to scale the Alps without a competent guide is no more senseless than the Catholic who refuses to ask and accept advice on his spiritual path through life.
E. By growing impatient at correction by lawful authorities. It does hurt our pride to be told that we have done wrong or have made a mistake. It hurts our pride to take directions and orders from others. When a young person, for example, refuses to accept the advice and admonition of his or her parents or teachers, he proves himself a proud person. In the pulpit and in the confessional your priests have to correct, and point out what is wrong. A proud person will resent such correction.
Two young fellows were once arguing about what day Christmas would fall on that year. One maintained that it would be Wednesday. The other stoutly asserted that it would come on Thursday. After a great deal of heated debate and betting of hundreds of dollars, they decided to consult a calendar, only to learn that it would fall on Friday. Both were wrong. Did they admit it? Not on your life. The Wednesday debater laughed:"Oh, I knew it was Friday all the time."And the Thursday fellow declared that he was one day closer than the other to the actual day. How often such scenes take place in our homes and offices.
F. By looking down upon and criticizing others, The lady with a new hat will look down upon the woman wearing last year's headgear. The woman with the new bonnet should not take the credit to herself. She should give it to the ostrich who supplied the feathers and to the milliner who designed and made the hat.
The same holds for the critic. Pointing out the faults of others is one of the easiest and trickiest habits to fall into. Whether the action we criticize is intentional or not, we do not know what caused the person to do it, how much he was tempted, and how often.
G. By boasting and bragging about our accomplishments. Knowing that people despise a bragger, the proud man will find clever ways of letting it be known what wonders he has performed.
Here we must point out that there is such a thing as just pride. We should have a reasonable pride in our appearance, in our family, our school, our work, and above all in our Church. It is the right kind of pride when we strive to excel in our studies, in our profession or in our trade.
H. By ignoring, forgetting and passing over our own faults. What a miserable wretch is the fellow who never admits a fault, who blinds himself to the mistakes he has made, who even thinks that he cannot make a mistake.
I. By an unreasonable fear of failure. Some Catholics never can make up their minds to attempt anything worthwhile, because they are senselessly afraid that they might fail and others might laugh. This is one reason many young people never make a start in some profession or career, a frequent reason many boys and girls do not tryout a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. At bottom it is a proud fear of failure, in addition to a lack of self denial.
J. By being needlessly concerned about the impression we are making on others. Why worry what others think, as long as you are doing your best and looking your reasonable best. In general, other people bother about us much less than we think. There are other ways in which pride shows itself, but these I mentioned are the most common.
A. It was the first sin committed in heaven and on earth. It was the sin of Lucifer who shouted:4. Suppose you suspect that you are proud, that you are guilty of one of these ways in which pride betrays itself. What can you do about it?"I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God." (Isaias, 14:13).It was the sin of our first parents who ate of the forbidden tree because Satan promised that it would make them like God.
B. For that very reason pride is the greatest sin - it is aimed directly against God, and is the breeding place of all other vices. How much God hates this vice the Bible tells us:i. "God resists the proud." 1 Peter, 5:5.C. Pride is also the most dangerous vice, because it is so natural and sly. One can easily be tricked into thinking one is better than others. It is dangerous also because it leads to other sins, as Sacred Scripture declares:
ii. "I will not give my glory to another." Isaias, 42:8.
iii. "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled." Luke, 18:14."From pride all perdition took its beginning." Tobias, 4:14.
"Pride goes before destruction." Proverbs, 16:18.
A. Study the life of our Lord, especially His forty days of penance and prayer during that first Lent. Recall His humility all through life, particularly during His passion and death. Look at our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani, and listen to His prayer: "Not my will, but thine be done."5. The best way to overcome pride is to learn the meaning, the value, and the necessity of humility, the foundation of all other virtues. Humility is that virtue which teaches us to look on all good as coming from God. If we could only get this thought into our living - everything worthwhile is from God. Essentially humility is the truth, and the truth is that all we have is from God.
B. Read and imitate the lives of the saints. They were all humble souls, no matter what they had accomplished for the Lord, no matter what their success, what their virtues, and what their position.
C. Consider the emptiness of created things. How empty is fame, how empty is praise, how empty the little satisfactions we get from boasting and criticizing.
D. Remember that you came from nothing, you are nothing, and you
can do nothing, except in so far as God helps you.
E. Realize the hatred and dislike that God has for pride, and how He has punished the proud: pride plunged Lucifer from the heights of heaven; pride brought on the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel; pride brought defeat to Pharao and to Goliath; pride reduced Nabuchodonosor to the condition of an animal; pride drew Christ's divine criticism upon the Pharisees and the Scribes.
F. See the beauty and the excellence of humility, as the Book of Proverbs, 11:2, tells us:"Where humility is, there also is wisdom."
6. True humility brings in its train many virtues pleasing to God. Among them we might mention:
A. Meekness and gentleness.7. How does humility prove itself? How can I be sure that I am practising this essential virtue? It is proven by:
B. Confidence and trust in God alone.
C. Charity and genuine sympathy.
D. Sorrow for our sins and the sins of the world.
E. Deep gratitude to God for all His gifts.
A. Ready obedience to superiors, whether it be at home, at school, at work, in your parish, or in public life. Christ gives the perfect example of such obedience. He was obedient even unto death.8. In a similar way the supreme lesson in humility is taught us as our Lord carries the cross for us, as He submits to ridicule and torture, as He dies the humiliating death on a cross.
B. Yielding your opinion to that of others, even in unimportant matters, such as come up constantly in daily life.
C. Moderation and modesty in the way you dress, in the carriage of your body, in the tone of your voice, and in the expression of your opinions.
D. Willingness and readiness to ask advice and to accept it when given.
E. Gentleness and kindness in our dealings with others, especially with those who are inferior in social status, education, wealth, or talents. Christ continually showed gentleness toward the sick and the poor and the outcast.
F. Willingness to do big and little favors for others that take time and effort on our part. Look at Christ. Nothing was too much for Him, when it was a question of doing good to someone.
G. Keeping calm and undisturbed amid insults, misfortunes, delays, and interference with our plans and programs. Look at our Lord during His passion and death. How patient, how uncomplaining, how forgiving.
H. Accepting humiliations when they come. This is extremely important. There can be no humility without humiliations, and humiliations come every day. A correction by a teacher, a mistake in making change, even a breach of etiquette, can be an occasion for practicing humility. Christ accepted the bitterest humiliations, not because He deserved them, but because He wanted to take them in our place.
I. Avoiding praise of oneself and of one's accomplishments.
J. Performing humble tasks, whether they are in our everyday line of duty, or whether we must go out of our way to perform them.
This point is illustrated by a story from the beginning of the last century. A well-dressed young man bought several things at a store, and asked for a boy to carry them home for him. The clerk told him they had no boy at the time, and that the packages could be easily carried. "What!" exclaimed the youth, "Carry them myself? Don't you know that I belong to one of the oldest families in Virginia ?"
Just then an elderly, distinguished looking gentleman stepped up, took the packages, and said:
"Come on, I'll carry them for you."
On reaching his home, the young man wanted to pay his elderly helper, but the gentleman refused with these words:
"I did not carry them for money."
The young man asked someone standing near who the old man was. The bystander replied:
"Why, that is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."
The surprised young man had the good sense to take the lesson in humility.
9. As we enter this sacred season of Lent Mother Church puts ashes on our brow to remind us of our humble origin and to remind us of what will become of all earthly things - they will turn to dust. What a lesson in humility!
10. They tell of a very bright boy who always knew his lessons perfectly, who was well-behaved and courteous at all times. He was the pride and joy of his teacher, a discerning person who did not want her pupil to become unreasonably proud. She brought to class one day two pictures - one of Jesus talking to the doctors in the temple and answering all their questions, the other a picture of Jesus hanging in death upon the cross.
At once the bright boy saw the point. There was Jesus, who knew all things, who could do all things, yet who humbled Himself to a shameful death upon the cross.
May Christ's humility drive out our pride, as His love and grace drove pride from the heart of Mary Magdalen. Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)