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Part 7: Pride
Here's the final installment of our seven-part weekly Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins.
At the very height of the Cold War, my brother Chris fought a Soviet bear. The hero in this cautionary tale about pride is not the bear, who won in a technical knockout. The hero is not the owner of the Hanover Mall in Massachusetts, who permitted a traveling Soviet bear owner to set up a boxing ring one Saturday by the Orange Julius. The hero is certainly not my brother Chris, the oldest of four, whose prideful effort to prove his manhood ironically set him back several years.
No, the hero is my mother. On paper, maybe she failed to exercise the care expected of a reasonably prudent parent. But one thing to consider: Her eldest child had just turned 19 and had just moved out of the house. As such, the Carroll family politic was undergoing our own little perestroika. It was time to let go, painful (really painful) as it was. Climbing into the ring with a bear was his way of declaring his independence — that he could do whatever he wanted to do, beginning with something ludicrous and unnecessary.
Yes, as she watched a 650-pound stinky brown bear lift itself up on its haunches and violently lunge at her firstborn, she must have felt the sort of heartbreak and anguish God feels whenever we — His children — do something really stupid, self-destructive, and in direct opposition to the nourishing and necessary love He offers to us.
Maybe Chris' boasting that he could pin a bear to canvas is an extreme example of the sort of deadly pride vilified throughout Scripture. But maybe it isn't. Pride is pride. We see deadly pride in the jingoistic and chauvinistic patriotism of nations. We see deadly pride in others and in ourselves whenever we think we can do it alone without God, whenever we fail to thank the Lord for the days we are given, whenever we think we have no reason to go to Confession. Pride is defined by unwarranted self-esteem, smugness, even contempt of others. We are prideful when we make ourselves out to be better, stronger, more skillful, and more wise than we really are. (I can take Chris to task here; he used to beat me up.)
As St. Faustina advises through her Diary, "Humility, humility, and ever humility, as we can do nothing of ourselves; all is purely and simply God's grace" (entry 55).
Here's another quote, more apropos to fighting a bear: "Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov 16:18).
With that, let's return to our little tragedy at the Hanover Mall. Friends, neighbors, family — we all packed ourselves up in a fleet of vehicles to make a day of it. When we arrived at the mall, a crowd had already gathered. Biker guys with leather vests had signed up, itching for a fight with a bear. The line stretched all the way down to Sears. But the line began moving surprisingly quickly for two reasons:
1. The fights were going very well for the bear; and
2. an inordinate number of tough biker guys had unceremoniously flaked off from the bear-fighting line to queue up at the Orange Julius line. (Men who wouldn't normally be caught dead sipping hand-squeezed juice from a plastic orange had decided it would be better to not be caught dead under the weight of a very large mammal while yards away shoppers tried on new slacks.)
As Chris got closer to the ring and as more and more fighters were peeled from the canvas, my mother — prone to anxiety attacks anyway — grew unnaturally pale. We all did. Chris had read about the bear weeks before. He knew it was big and that this would be no picnic, and so none of this was any surprise. But the rest of us had originally imagined a fluffy bear, a couple bear hugs, good fun in the vein of a dunking booth.
"Don't do this, Chris. Please," our mother pleaded.
"Nope, I'm doing it," he said.
Remember, these were uncertain days — sword-rattling days. This was 1983. As far as we all knew, the Soviets were weighing the pros and cons of preemptive nuclear annihilation. Yuri Andropov was the Soviet leader at the time. Was the traveling brown bear his idea? See what the Yanks are made of? A sortie into what he probably considered the cancerous heart of capitalism, beside a mall fountain where capitalist children toss pennies and wish for new bicycles rather than for collective ownership of the means of production?
With full confidence — or something — Chris climbed into the ring. They put boxing gloves on him the size of basketballs and a full-face sparring headgear. The bear waited in his corner, his tongue flickering through his muzzle, tasting the air. The bell rang. Before my mother's first born could say, "You're crushing my ribcage, Comrade," the fight was over. The bear had pummeled him with a left hook and then a right hook that knocked him down. On the canvas, Chris crouched like a baby in utero.
Like dragging a half-filled duffle bag, they pulled Chris out of the ring. My mother, crying, hugged him and told him he was an idiot, then hugged him some more.
On reflecting upon this memory, I learned two valuable lessons that day:
1. Cherish unconditional love — the love of a mother, the love of God;
2. it's better to swallow your pride than get swallowed by a bear. Life is tough enough. God does not need to be sparred with. He's the Champ!
View the entire seven-part series.
The Seven Deadly Sins