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Pope Francis Prescribes a Daily Examination of Conscience

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If you think you don’t need to, pride could be a problem

The advice Pope Francis gave in his homily Friday morning is a bit of wisdom I wish I’d heard 20 years ago. Well, it’s not like we haven’t all heard it more than once, for example:

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18

And as a young child growing up in a Catholic family and in Catholic schools, I periodically heard about those seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. I was taught they were deterrents to my eternal salvation. Most are easy to spot (especially in others). But pride is truly insidious, convincing us that we’re right, that we don’t need advice, that we have everything under control. We often don’t notice the wreck it’s making of our lives until we’re a, well, wreck.

Here’s a cautionary tale on why we need to be on the lookout for evidence of our own pride and to yank out this "root of all vices" before it destroys our well-being.

It was the fall of 2004. I was in my last year of formal training as I completed my internship. I began to experience dizziness, fatigue, and dull chest pain. While it would periodically remit, most days I felt the symptoms and they seemed to only get worse. I started worrying, and thinking that if I couldn’t handle this year, how could I manage a career and kids (which were later to come)? Although I attributed the issues somewhat to stress, I started believing the worst must be true. Something was seriously wrong. But I told no one, not even my wife, Amy, who would have been fully willing to listen.

I prided myself on my independence, years away from realizing that the life I truly desired, and needed, was a vulnerable, interdependent one. I was too proud to admit that I was struggling. I wondered if people around me noticed. For me, pride had manifested itself in greater admiration of my own capacity (in comparison to what others could offer) with a focus on self-preservation for fear of “losing face” or status with others.  

One day I decided it was time to go see a doctor. He ran a number of tests. They were negative. Although I was relieved to some degree, part of me still wondered if something was wrong. I was still having a difficult time crawling outside of myself. Then, sensing my stress, he offered a prescription for Zoloft, which seemed appropriate at the time. I declined it (not knowing if I would later reverse the decision). He seemed surprised, but I just felt that there was more to understand before I was ready to take this step. 

I began to look around. I noticed that I had gained some weight over the previous few years. My two-a-day Coke habit (facilitated by free soft drinks in the lounge) couldn’t have been helpful for my GI system. I rarely drank water. My diet started to look much less healthy than I liked to think it was. Even though I prided myself on being an active person, I realized that cool weather (and putting the bike away) brought about extended sedentary periods. Slowly, I started to acknowledge my own vulnerability, and that I may not be as independently smart and capable as I had thought. I began to acknowledge this to Amy (and eventually others), who had been much more vocal about her own particular struggle at this time. Gradually, over months and years as I detailed in my book, things started to change. But I sensed this would be a lifelong process.

 But it wasn’t until years later, through my own struggles and those of others I met through my professional work, that I began to realize just how much they were constraints to our own psychological well-being, and our life as a whole. Evidece of the negative effects of the seven deadly sins on life in the modern world is everywhere: the obesity crisis; STD epidemics; the never-ending on-screen flaunting of intense, unabated anger and violence seen in schools and public forums; increasing gaps between poverty and wealth (with debilitating debt in the middle). All of which start to look less like personal lifestyle choices and more like transgressions committed against ourselves, ironically in pursuit of the same goals

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