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Third Sunday after Trinity

Benjamin Lee

July 2 AD 2006

1 Peter 5:5f    St. Luke 15:1-11

All of you be subject to one another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you” (I Peter 5:5-6).

A principle we need always to keep in mind this Trinity Season, is the Church’s insistence that we are at once justified and sinners, simul iustus et peccator: in Christ, and by his blood, we are justified, that is to say, Christ himself is our righteousness, and we are given the grace of our justification before God in our baptism, and receive this grace anew each time we partake of communion: “That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” (BCP p. 84).  And yet, we are nevertheless justified sinners and continue to offend against God’s holy laws.  Because of this fact, in this Trinity Season we would join with Dante and ascend the mount Purgatory, to examine the roots of our sinfulness, the bad habits of heart, mind, and body from which all our sinful behaviour springs.  Thus, the way of sanctification is a difficult, strenuous and often painful climb upwards, in the hope that our love may be purified, converted, and reformed, so that our vices may be transformed into virtues, and so that our wills may be made fit to see God in his holy presence. 

 

But the way upwards, crucially, requires a turn inwards: so that the sicknesses and infirmities of our soul may be healed, we must repent of our sins; but such repentance, requires confession of our sins; but such confession, requires sorrow for our sins. . .  and so, you see, if we are to repent from our actual sins, and make a real amendment of our life, we must have a true knowledge our sins—not merely of some vague state of sinfulness, but our actual sins and their causes.  Hence Trinity Season is at once a movement of upwards and inwards.  If we want to know God, we must come to a knowledge of ourselves as God knows us.

Today this inward conversion of our souls back upon itself, in self-examination, brings before us what is often called the root of all sin: that is, pride.  “For God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).    

 

Pride is our presumption of usurping the place of God: it is our dependence upon ourselves, looking for our salvation in our own powers, gifts, and strengths.  In pride, rather than trusting in God’s wisdom, providence and love, we rail against our status as creatures, and refuse to recognise our dependence on God for our very existence.  Pride is a form of presumption, a self-sufficiency, clinging to one’s self rather than divine grace, the neglect of God’s sacraments and prayer.  Thus, in so far as we put our confidence in ourselves and our own powers, as Dorthy Sayers puts it, “the devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not on our weak points, but on our strong” (The Other Six Deadly Sins).  Pride is like a parasite: often difficult to spy, it so often goes long undetected, slowing eating away at our strengths and virtues, allowing us to think we are doing good and well, making progress, and enjoying success, when in fact we are drawing nigh to our destruction.  So long as the fierce beast of pride resides in our breast, we cannot be free from all kinds of evils.  Indeed, pride in us distorts and twists our reason, contriving many and various excuses for our refusal of God, justifying our sinful behaviours, distorting our judgement so that we suppose our sins are insignificant, natural, inevitable, or not even sins at all!  And so pride leads to our disregard for our sins, chaining us to them in our refusal to repent.  Proud reliance upon ourselves rather than God is therefore premised on a fundamental self-deception: for it is a refusal to recognise our creaturliness, finitude, the weakness and frailty of our human nature.  In pride, we cannot recognise the weakness and wretchedness of our own souls.  And so “God resisteth the proud,” yet it is also the case that we, in our pride, resist God.

 

But how then can we come to know ourselves when we are so utterly self-deceived?  Thankfully, our weakness is known to God.  If we seek to know ourselves as we are known by God, we need the help of the God who alone truly knows our weakness.  The secrets of our hearts shall remain closed to our understanding, unless they be opened by the keys of Christ’s cross.  St Peter teaches that God “giveth grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).  Humility and grace are surely what is most needed for our repentance.  Our journey up Mount Purgatory can only be undertaken by God’s grace.  If we acknowledge the miserable poverty of our spirit, that we cannot improve ourselves of our own accord, that a lost sheep cannot find its own way back to the fold, then we look to God’s mighty aid, and so cast all our cares upon him and his love.  The purgation of sin is a painful process, and involves suffering.  Coming to terms with our pride entails soberly acknowledging our real abasement and poverty, it means knowing oneself as the sinner for whom Christ died. 

 

But once pride, the root of all sin, is purged from our souls, once our cold, stubborn and hardened hearts have submitted to humility, we shall experience freedom and lightness in our pilgrimage up the mountain of purgation, and our pace up the mountain shall quicken. This is why, once Dante has passed through the ‘Circle of the Proud,’ he asks his guide, “Master, what heavy load has slipped from me, so that I walk with ease, and scarcely feel fatigue upon the road?” (Purgatorio, Canto 12).  With the overcoming of pride, the rest of the ascent is made easier, for the chains which enslave us to our other sins are thereby partly loosened. 

 

It is “the God of all grace . . . [who] shall himself restore, stablish and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).  In prayer, we call upon God for his grace.  So many of our ancient Collects educate our invocations, teaching us that prayer is the act and posture of humility par excellence, and thus a most excellent remedy for pride.  Today’s Collect is no exception:

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen  (BCP, p. 221).

 

 

 

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