Monday, April 11, 2022
Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
The "poor banished children of Eve" have always shown an inordinate hunger for praise. It is one of the consequences of original sin.
Thomas of Kempis, keen observer of the human condition and well acquainted with the Scriptures, addressed this weakness of the fallen human nature with these lapidary words: "You are not holier if you are praised, nor the more worthless if you are found fault with. What you are, that you are; neither by word can you be made greater than what you are in the sight of God."
Experience shows that it takes a very high degree of holiness to be satisfied only with God's assessment of us. The saints were only interested in pleasing God; they did not allow themselves to be bribed by praise or criticism. Jesus was concerned only with the will of the heavenly Father: "I always do what is pleasing to him" (Jn 8:29).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ rebukes the Pharisees for practicing good deeds in order to be praised. In particular, he pointed out that they prayed outrageously in public, gave alms ostentatiously and disfigured their faces to show that they prayed, gave alms and fasted (cf. Mt. 6:1-18).
The disciples of Jesus, on the contrary, must practice good deeds with discretion so that the heavenly Father, who sees in secret, may be the one who sees and rewards them (cf. Mt. 6:4,6,18).
We humans can easily fall into the trap of "what will people say." We do something, or fail to do something, thinking of the judgment of others. We look like actors playing an epic role in front of a demanding audience. Instead, those who experientially know God also know themselves, show holiness of the highest caliber and make the Lord's counsel their own: "When you have done all that you were commanded to do, say, 'We are only poor servants; we have only done what we had to do'" (Lk. 17:10).
Jesus always led by example. Even the Pharisees and Herodians had to recognize how unconcerned Jesus was about himself: "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status..." (Mt 22:16).
He was not interested in human glories either. He said it explicitly: "I do not accept human praise" (Jn 5:41). He sought only the true and definitive glory, that which comes from God: "Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you" (Jn 17:1).
St. Paul, an outstanding disciple of Jesus, followed closely in his footsteps: "Am I now currying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ" (Gal 1:10).
We feel insecure because we do not live deeply anchored to God. And because we feel insecure, we eagerly seek the approval of others.
Praise-seeking has become institutionalized lately. We see it every day: It is impossible to receive medical care in a hospital without later receiving a survey seeking approval. The same thing happens when you buy something online; as soon as the package arrives, they are already asking if you liked the product and the service.
Even at restaurants, just after the steaming plate has landed on the table, the waitress is already asking, "Everything okay?" Diners, out of politeness, usually say yes even if the dish leaves much to be desired.
Lent, and especially Holy Week, provides an opportunity to examine our inner selves. We can take advantage of this favorable moment to ask ourselves how we are doing in terms of humility. This heroic virtue is in short supply. The Venerable Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val composed some litanies to attain it. One of the supplications reads: "From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, O Jesus."