Pride: the most deadly of the mortal sins


St Peter being given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven by Christ

"Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

Does anyone remember Jonestown?

According to the journalists, Jonestown was the biggest newspaper story there has ever been - bigger than the assassination of President Kennedy; bigger than the fall of the Berlin wall; bigger than the first man on the moon.

For several days the whole world was focused in horror on one small village in the Amazon. And everyone was compelled by the story of how one man had been so deluded by the Evil One that his religious ideas were perverted to murder and suicide which destroyed him and many hundreds of his followers. This is what happens to the man who thinks he knows God. This is why pride is the most deadly of the mortal sins.

As a child, I remember listening in horror as the news of the massacre came over the radio. The reports described the thousands of bodies putrefying in the hot sun, the families who had all died together; and over the whole area a vast stench of death. Twenty years after the event I went there and saw the small clearing in the forest and the few crumbling abandoned huts that are now all that remains of one man’s fevered attempt to recreate humanity in his own image and likeness. It is a horrible place. And it seems to symbolize many other and much larger monuments to human arrogance: Auschwitz, the Gulags of Stalin, the Cultural Revolution; the Killing Fields of Cambodia – and all the other great murderous crimes of 20th Century atheism – all the other occasions in which single men have felt so inspired by their ideology that they tried to recreate humanity in their own image and likeness and destroyed millions in the attempt.

All of those great crimes were committed a very long way away and many years ago.  But, in smaller ways, I am sure that we have all known the same temptation. We have all had times when we felt that we really knew what God wanted - that we knew more about life than anyone else. If we were fortunate, someone held us back and we listened to the wisdom of the community; if we were less fortunate, we may have gone ahead, made mistakes and had to learn from them.

(They say: “If you have can’t hear, you have to feel.” And, sadly, some have been so deluded by their pride that they have gone off their own way and formed their own small groups cut off from the main trunk of the vine.)

People don’t realize how dangerous that is. Because that is pride and that is the path that leads to the dark side - the road that leads to Jonestown.

And this is why the Lord tells us today that when we make the decisions of our lives, the decisions that ultimately matter about how we are going to use the lives we have been given, we must trust, not in the authority of single men who believe they know God but in the wisdom and the authority of the Christian community as a whole. It is to us as the Church that the Lord has given the spirit - the advocate, the counselor who will lead us to all truth. And that is why, in every thing we do, we come together as a community to worship the Lord, to follow his way together. It is harder that way - we have to listen to the voice of the Lord as He speaks to us in our brothers and sisters. And that is a lot harder than simply deciding what I want to do and telling myself that God wants that also. None of us have a hot line to God; all of us have the Church that Christ founded and to that church he has said:

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.”

Paul O'Reilly SJ