Spiritual pride often masquerades as spiritual confidence. In fact, in my experience, spiritual pride never looks like spiritual pride–or at least what you think spiritual pride looks like. The context, of course, is detecting spiritual pride in oneself. It is very easy to detect spiritual pride in others (or so we think). In fact, some people seem to have the a “spiritual gift” of discerning almost all the spiritual, emotional and psychological faults of others (again, or so we think). But very few Christians have attained to the height of spiritual discernment to see their own weaknesses, their own spiritual pride.
In the Gospels, Jesus sets before us examples of people with healthy spiritual attitudes. In most cases, these spiritually healthy ones are people whom we would normally say are weak or even defective in some way. The sick ones, Jesus teaches by his words and actions, are the first in the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t like to view ourselves as the sick ones. We’d rather see ourselves (by God Grace, we say) as the ones who help the sick. And even when we know we are spiritually weak, we like to tell ourselves that we know what we could/should/might do about it–as if spiritual healing were merely a matter of doing what we already know we ought to do. It is an almost perfect mental game. We have the pride of thinking we know, but because we never really give ourselves completely to doing what we know is right, we never find out that what we so confidently know (and will fight to defend) is really only partial and mixed with lots of imagination.
St. Paul rebukes both the Jewish Christians in Rome and the Gentile Christians in Corinth for their spiritual pride, masquerading as confidence. To the Romans he asks, You who…make your boast in God, and know his will and are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, Do you [not even] teach yourself? Do you steal? Do you commit adultery? Do you, he asks, cause others to curse God because of the way you treat them (since you are already identified as God’s people)? To the Corinthians he chides: “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us.” The Corinthian Christians were so confident in their being right that they were willing to sue one another in court, thus proving that they had completely failed to attain the most basic Christian virtues.
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” In the Church we repeat constantly, “Lord have mercy.” For the confident, this prayer has no meaning. Perhaps to the confident it is merely equivalent to “Lord grant me good luck.” However, to the sick, the blind, the sinner, the woman sorely tempted to sin, the man stricken by guilt for past sins, the father and mother who have no idea how to raise their children, to these people, “Lord have mercy” has meaning. It is the sick who need the Physician; the lost who need to be found; the sorrowing who need the Comforter; the confused and storm-tossed who need the Quiet Haven.
Lord grant that spiritual confidence never take root in our minds, but that we always know ourselves to be the poor and needy ones. Lord have mercy.