That in Our Actions We Ought to Shun the Vice of Vainglory

by admin on July 26, 2010

ONE of the things most recommended and repeated in our Constitutions and Rules is to keep a right intention in all our actions, seeking in them ever the will of God and His greater glory. At every step our Rules repeat to us these words: “To the greater glory of God,” or “Looking ever to the greater service of God,” which is the same thing. Our blessed Father had so engraven on his heart this desire of the greater glory and honor of God and was so used to the practice of doing all things for this end, that from thence he came to bring it out and utter it so fre­quently. From the abundance of the heart the words come forth (Luke vi. 45). This was ever, as it were, his coat of arms and the soul and life of all his actions. With much reason do they put on his pictures this lettering, A.M.D.G., Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—”To the greater glory of God.” These are his arms, this his motto and coat; this is the summary of his life and exploits. Such also ought to be our arms, our motto and coat, that as good children we may resemble our Father.

With reason does he inculcate this so forcibly upon us, since all our progress and perfection turn on the actions which we do; and the better these are and the more perfect, the better and more perfect shall we ourselves be. But our actions will be more fraught with goodness and perfection in proportion as our intention is more right and pure and our end and aim higher and more perfect, for this it is that gives life and being to our works, according to the text of the holy Gospel: The light of thy body is thine eye: if thine eye be pure and simple, all thy body will be bright and light­some; but if it be evil and double-minded, all thy body will be dark and in the shade (Matt. vi. 22). By the eye the saints understand the intention, which sees and first fore­stalls what it seeks; and by the body they understand the action, which follows the intention as the whole body fol­lows the eyes. Christ our Redeemer, then, says that what gives light and brightness to our actions is the intention and so, if the end and intention of the action is good, the action will be good, and if evil, evil; and if the end be high and perfect, the action will be so likewise.

It is this also which the Apostle St. Paul says: // the root be holy, so too are the branches (Rom. xi. 16). As is the root, so will be the tree and the fruit thereof. Of a tree the root of which is injured, what can be expected but unpleasant and sour and worm-eaten fruit ? But if the root is healthy and good, the tree will be good and bear good fruit. So in actions the goodness and perfection thereof lies in the intention, which is the root. And to the same account it is said that the purer they are, the better and more perfect they will be. St. Gregory on that text of Job, Whereon are its supports firmly fixed? (Job xxxviii. 6), says that, whereas the whole structure of a material build­ing rests on certain pillars and the pillars on their bases and pedestals, so the whole spiritual life rests on the virtues, and the virtues are founded on the right and pure intention of the heart.

But to proceed with this subject in an orderly manner, we will speak first of the evil end which we have to shun in our actions, not doing them for vainglory or for other human considerations, and then we will speak of the right and pure intention which we ought to have, because the first thing to do must be to withdraw from evil, and after that to do good, according to those words of the prophet: Depart from evil, and do good (Psalm xxxiii. 15).

All the saints admonish us to be much on our guard against vainglory, because, say they, it is a cunning thief which often steals from us even our best actions, and which insinuates itself so secretly that it has even robbed and despoiled us before we perceive it. St. Gregory says that vainglory is like a robber in disguise, who insinuates him­self into the company of a traveler, pretending to go the same way that he goes, and afterwards robs and murders him when he is least upon his guard and thinks himself in perfect security. “I confess,” says the saint in the last chapter of his “Moralia,” “that when I go about to examine my own intention in writing these books, methinks my sole aim is to please God therein; but, notwithstanding, when I am off my guard, I find that some desire of satisfying and pleasing men intermixes itself, and some vain self-compla­cency. I know not how nor in what manner, but at the end of a little while I come to see that this business goes not in its later course so free from dust and chaff as it was when I began. I know I began with a good intention and desire simply of pleasing God, but since then I see it is not so pure as that. The same thing happens here as in eating; we begin to eat of necessity, and gluttonous delight steals over us so subtly that what we began of necessity to sustain nature and preserve life, we continue and conclude for the mere pleasure of the palate.” Thus here in religion we often take up the duty of preaching and the like for the advancement and profit of souls; and then vanity gains an entrance and we desire to please and satisfy men and to be taken notice of and esteemed; and when things fall out otherwise, our wings evidently droop, and we do the work with a bad grace.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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