Here is the first of four Lenten homilies on the seven deadly sins.
God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Ready!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust, set out for the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar. Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.”
Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. “Father!” he said. “Yes, son,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’S messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. Genesis 22:1-13
Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. The Lord ordered Abraham to take Isaac to the mountain of sacrifice, the mountain where the Temple was to be built. Abraham did what the Lord commanded Him to do.
We are on our way up a mountain, too—the holy mountain of Lent. We are striving to submit ourselves more and more fully to God’s will, so that when Easter comes, we can keep the feast.
The Lord told Abraham where to go and what to do. In other words, God made His will known. He did not leave Abraham in doubt. The Lord has likewise spoken to us, so that we can know His will and obey it. Next Sunday we will read the passage of Scripture containing the Ten Commandments.
God made us to do good and avoid evil. We climb the holy mountain by cultivating virtue and by eradicating vice. As we know, a virtue is a good habit, a vice is a bad one. Generally speaking, we act according to our habits. If we want to do good and avoid evil consistently, we need virtues, and we need to overcome our vices.
There are seven fundamental virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. All the virtues flow from these basic seven.
Likewise, there are seven capital vices: pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, and gluttony. These seven are the roots of all vice.
The way to combat a vice is to cultivate the opposing virtue—and beg God for help, because we cannot do it without grace.
The original sin, the mother of all sins, is pride. Let’s try clearly to identify the sin of pride, since it can also be good to take pride.
Sinful pride is undue self-esteem or self-love. St. Augustine defined pride as: “An appetite for perverse excellence.” Sinful pride seeks attention and honor. Sinful pride competes with God, instead of obeying Him.
The devil was the first one to do this. God originally made the devil a glorious angel, brilliantly intelligent and powerful. But the devil did not acknowledge the truth: He did not accept that he was made by God, that he was utterly dependent on God, and that his purpose for existing was to serve God. Instead, Satan wanted to be God. At the beginning of time, the devil declared, “I will not serve.”
Here is the difference between good pride and sinful pride. We are God’s handiwork. Not only that—God took our human nature to Himself personally and became one of us. He redeemed the human race and made us His adopted children through Baptism. Therefore, it is no sin to take pride in being a Christian, in being a beloved child of God. It is no sin to seek true excellence, the excellence of sharing in the holiness of Christ.
We were made to serve God. We are nothing without Him. We fall into the sin of pride when we forget this, when we let ourselves be led away from the truth. Because of original sin, we have a tendency to be like the devil, to want to be gods ourselves.
We think that we know better than God does. We start to think that we are more than we really are. We turn our backs on God’s infinitely wise and powerful fatherly care, and we try to strike out on our own. As pride takes hold, other people become a threat, and instead of loving them, we hold them in contempt.
Sinful pride can be intoxicating. It can be thrilling to think: “Look at this—I am in charge. I don’t need anybody. I control my destiny!”
The problem is: It isn’t true. Yes, we have free will. Yes, we control our actions. But we do not control our fate. Our knowledge, our skills, our freedom—all are highly limited. We cannot successfully set ourselves up as little gods. We can try, but it won’t work. We will come tumbling down sooner or later. As the saying goes, “Pride goeth before a fall.”
The antidote to pride is of course humility. Abraham humbly obeyed God. Abraham climbed Mount Moriah and turned it into the mountain of humility. The Lord Jesus climbed this mountain after He submitted His will to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and let Himself be arrested. Christ was unjustly condemned by Pilate on the same mountain, eighteen hundred years after Abraham and Isaac climbed it.
The humble obedience God demands is not easy. God is all-knowing and all-good, perfectly kind and perfectly merciful—but it is not always easy to believe this. Sometimes the Lord allows us to be beset by difficulties that we think we cannot manage.
God, however, is God—we are not. Sinful pride can be intoxicating, but it is folly. It is smarter for us to humble ourselves and let God be God. Let’s leave it up to Him to run the world. Let’s just do what we can to root out vice and cultivate virtue. Rooting out vice and cultivating virtue is the work of a lifetime for us. God will take care of everything else.