THE DANGERS OF SELF-DECEIT
Among the problems Bishop François Fénelon saw in his parishioners was an overwhelming abundance of dedication to giving alms and doing good deeds for the poor and needy. But that’s not all he spotted; they were feeding their self-conceit by believing that their devotion was void of any self-interests. That meant they felt quite free from self-love and always generously devoted to their neighbors.
But all this devotion that seemed to be for others is really for themselves. Sometimes, self-love reaches the point of endless self-congratulation in the mistaken belief that you are free from self-love itself. All your anxiety grows out of the fear that you might not be delighted with your performance. It then becomes the root of your ethics and principles.
Now, if you thought of nothing but giving God all the glory, you would be as intense and sensitive to the losses of others as to your own. But it is self that makes you become deeply involved and thoughtful. You want God and others to be satisfied with you, and you want to be content with yourself in all your dealings with God.
You are not used to being gratified with a simple act of goodwill. On the contrary, your self-love wants a lively feeling, a reassuring pleasure, some charm or excitement. You are guided too much by imagination, and you suppose that your mind and will are inactive unless you are conscious of their involvement. So, you depend on the same excitement and applause that performers receive for an outstanding performance on the theater stage.
Because of your excessive tampering, you go to the opposite extreme – a stubborn, hardheaded imagination. Naturally, therefore, nothing is more opposed to the life of faith and true wisdom.
There is no more dangerous invitation to delusion than the wrong ways people try to avoid misconception. It is imagination that leads us astray. The certainty we seek through vision, feeling, and taste is one of the most dangerous sources from which fanaticism springs.
It forms the divide of vanity and corruption with God’s will. It is something He would have us discover in our heart: we must look on it with the calm and simplicity that belong to true humility. Furthermore, it is self-love that makes us so brokenhearted upon seeing our many imperfections. To stand face to face with them, however, not pounding our fists or keeping our hands over our mouth, but seeking to correct ourselves without becoming irritable. It means to desire what is suitable for its own sake and God’s sake, rather than something we want to see. So, turn against this useless search of yours for the self-satisfaction you crave by doing things your way, even though they are right.
Written over 450 years ago
Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda
Although conditions have change in the church from what it was back in the 1500s, this principle of doing things to promote God or ourselves is still prevalent. Did we choose our style of preaching to draw attention to us or to God’s Word? Are we in the choir or praise and worship team to show off our talent and singing ability to the beat of the music or the heartbeat of the lyrics? Have we gotten involved in different church ministries to show how loving and caring God is, or how dedicated and sympathetic we are? As François Fénelon said, are we operating on the motivation of self-love, or the energy of God’s love for others through us?