St. John says that pride flows out of our love of the praise of men (Vainglory). Its midpoint is "the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out." It is "the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition." In rather frightening words, St. John writes: "A proud monk needs no demon. He has turned into one, an enemy to himself."
How can we recognize that this spiritual ailment is afflicting us? In a series of proverbs, St. John gives us several signs which manifest its presence in our hearts: 1) a know-it-all, argumentative spirit, 2) a refusal to obey, a belief that we know better than our spiritual elders, 3) an aversion to correction, a belief that we are beyond the need for reproach and/or instruction, 4) a desire to lead and an innate belief that we know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done better than others, 5) a false humility, 6) a lack of awareness of our own sins and shortcomings, 7) an inflated opinion of our own virtues, 8) a belief that we have attained the blessedness of heaven, a forgetting of the need to finish the race and of the possibility of failure.
How do we overcome pride in our lives? Once again, St. John's words are practical and to the point. His advice can be summarized as follows: 1) it is helpful to keep before us the struggles and virtues of the holy Fathers and saints. It is so easy for us to compare ourselves with our contemporaries and think that we are doing pretty well. In our day and age, it is a great temptation for those who are trying to live pious and prayerful lives to begin to think that they are somehow doing a lot for the Lord, that they are waging a serious and dedicated struggle and that they have achieved a level of spiritual maturity. One has only to look to the Fathers and the Saints to see how shallow and false this kind of thinking is, 2) it is helpful for us to remember how many blessings we have received and to remember how any advancements we have made in the spiritual life are the result not of our own efforts but God's mercy, 3) it is helpful to remember that everything we obtain by way of struggle in the spiritual life is offered to us only because of the struggle of Christ. No matter how hard we struggle, without Christ there would be no victory. The doors of Heaven would still be closed. The grave would still have its claim on us and we would be shut out from the presence of God. "If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we should still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than in physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants."
"Such is the twenty-third step. Whoever climbs it, if indeed any can, will certainly be strong."
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