Thursday, February 16, 2006

Septuagesima Week. Chapter from "The Way that Leads to God" by the Abbe A. Saudreau. Love of self in good people continued.

50. Self-love is a most serious failing, whether it shows itself by vanity, by over-susceptibility, or by excessive self-absorbtion. It is the creature laying claim to that which is not its own, appropriating to its private use that which due to God. The Christian soul, the pious soul, will say faithfully and with all its heart: "Glory be to the father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost". And this wish is sincere. But why, then, instead of rendering to the most adorable Trinity all the glory that belongs to God, do they try to rob Him of a portion of it? God has said: "I will not give my glory to another" (Gloriam meam alteri non dabo - Isa. Xlii.8). Now, when you desire to be glorified, admired, and praised for the gifts which you have received from God, the talents with which he has endowed you, the good dispositions with which He has inspired you, the virtues which His grace has caused to be born and to increase within you, you claim the glory which is rightfully His. Quid habes quod non accepisti? ("What hast thou," says St Paul, "that thou hast not received? And, if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" - I Cor. IV.7). "If there be any glory connected with a rich and splendid garment," said St. Francis of Sales, "does it not belong rather to the tailor who made it than to him who wears it? Without the tailor he would be obliged to stand there in all the shame of his native nudity." And, alas! Without God's gifts there would be nought in us but misery and nakedness. But this is very truth of which the vain man cannot be conceived, or, at any rate, it does not take hold of his mind. It is a delight to him to receive praise, to see every kind of virtue and good quality attributed to him; he considers all these eulogies as his right. "They will recognize my talent, they will admire my judgment; they will say that I have a good heart, that I am full of devotion. They will praise my graciousness, the distinction of my manners; they will consider me extremely capable, firm and prudent. And it will all be quite true!". How many thoughts of this kind work in poor, human brains, even those of good Christians? Not that the really virtuous man acts solely with the object of winning admiration, but his intention is often not pure. People propose to do their duty, but it is not solely with the object of pleasing God; they wish also to get some credit for themselves out of the performance.
51. Well may that be termed vainglory of which vain persons are so covetous. They seek the esteem of men, an esteem which is so unstable and often so unjustly bestowed. And what real advantage accrues from other people's good or bad opinion of us? The blame of our fellows does not make us any worse, their praise does not make us better. Whether they criticize us or admire us, our actual worth remains unchanged. Human fame has been aptly compared to a little smoke, which cannot be grasped and is quickly gone. It has been likened also to a shadow. And what is a shadow but an empty seeming? So the esteem of men is but a misleading phantom; it appears to be something, but in reality is nothing. A shadow is uncertain and varying; something much shorter, sometimes much longer that the object which it represents, so that we should be greatly out in our reckonings if we were to take the shadow into account when we wished to ascertain its dimensions. And so is the world's opinion uncertain and variable; sometimes over-favourable, sometimes too severe. Those who value their neighbour in accordance with the world's opinion of them run a great risk of being wrong in their estimates. The shadow is capricious; it flies when it is pursued; it follows those who flee from it. And so they who show themselves over-eager for glory or the esteem of their fellow-man, lose it, while those who, disclaiming such a paltry consideration, are prompted by a nobler motive, win what they have never desired. To pursue a phantom, to seek to feed upon smoke, is not this the act of a maniac? And these vain men cannot excuse themselves by saying that they did not know the worthlessness of the world's opinion; for, like everyone else, more, perhaps, than others, in the day of their disillusioning they have lamented the injustice of human judgments. And they were not wrong , for the world is incessantly at fault. It exalts to the skies those who are deserving of anything but praise; it criticizes and censures those whom it ought to admire. Why not make light, then, of its verdicts; why not say, with St Paul: Mihi autem pro minimo est ut a vobis judicer (But to me it is very small thing to be judged by you or by man's day; but neither do I judge mine own self....but He that judges me is the Lord - 1 Cor. IV.3).