Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) saw what some of his parishioners were bragging about and concluded that “self-conceit” cannot bear to look at itself. The sight would overwhelm it with shame and frustration, says the archbishop, and if it catches an accidental glimpse, it looks for some dim lighting that may soften the glare of the hideous thing it’s seeing. Therefore, we always keep up some illusion as long as we retain any trace of self-love. In order to see ourselves better, self-love must be rooted up, and the love of God must blossom within us. Then the same light that shows our tanks will remove them. Until then, we will know little about ourselves, since we have partially given ourselves to God while we cling to our egos a great deal more than we think or dare to admit to ourselves.

Only when we accept the truth will we see more clearly. Then, loving ourselves only with the love of charity, we will see ourselves as we see our neighbor, without self-interest without flattery. Meanwhile, God spares our weakness, showing us our true repulsiveness only in proportion to the courage He gives to cope with what we’re seeing. He shows us first one bit and then another, as He gradually leads us toward changing ourselves for the better. Without this merciful groundwork of providing light and strength in due proportion, the sight of our frailties would only lead to utter despair.

Those to whom spiritual guidance is delivered should reveal people’s faults only as God prepares the heart to see them. Spiritual guides must learn to watch a person’s faults with patience and take steps until God makes them feel the conviction in their conscience. Indeed, spiritual counselors must imitate God’s way of dealing with the soul by softening their rebuke so that the person reprimanded feels it was their self-reproach and a sense of wounded love rather than God rebuking them. All other guidance methods – impatiently correcting or because the spiritual guide is agitated by the other person’s many weaknesses – the odor of explosive opinions, not the scent of Grace’s restoration. It is imperfection rebuking the imperfect: this is a case of self-love not wanting to let go, for it cannot see anything to forgive in the other person’s self-conceit. The greater our arrogance, the more severe critics we become. Nothing is so offensive to a self-righteous person than the egotistical attitude of others.

On the other hand, God’s love is full of consideration, self-restraint, like an Army General willing to talk to a Private with humility and tenderness. It adapts itself, waits, and never moves more than one step at a time. The less self-love we have, the more we can adapt ourselves to sharing principles that will help our neighbors deal with failings of any kind. For example, we have learned never to applying healing ointment to a cut or wound until it’s cleaned. Never tell a friend to get rid of certain unhealthy foods without providing them something healthy to eat.

Furthermore, never take untried chances; make sure you know what you are doing and that it’s safe. Sometimes we learn to wait years before giving a helpful warning. Think it through before offering advice; wait until the right time. Let God’s Spirit open their heart and mind. For, if you persist in picking fruit before it is ripe, you are simply wasting your time, and it leaves a bad taste.  

Since most of our moods are momentary and complicated, our explanations are apt to become incorrect before we finish making them up. Something changes and makes our ideas unrealistic. So, it is best to be content to say what seems to be true when we are opening our hearts to them. It is unnecessary to tell everything carefully and precisely. Plan on keeping nothing to yourself; share with them what the Holy Spirit is telling you at the moment. Please don’t put it off until you can soften it with the flattering touches of self- conceit. According to its needs, God supplies what is lacking to an upright heart, and spiritual guides who are enlightened by grace quickly perceive when others may not know what to say. Unlike you, they may not know how to respond to a person opening up and being honest without holding anything back.

Since our friends, too, are imperfect, they can only have a flawed view of us. They often judge us by comparing their failings to our faults, which jars their self-conceit. Self-love is a very sharp, harsh, and unforgiving critic, and the same self-conceit that softens their view of their shortcomings leads to magnifying ours. Because their point of view differs completely from ours, they think they perceive something in us, we know little about, while overlooking much of what we do see. They are then quick to discern many things that wound their sensitive, jealous self-love, things we’ve decided not to share. But they do not see those secret faults that stain our virtues even more because they offend no one but God. And so, their mature judgment may be very superficial.

My conclusion, says the archbishop, is that it is best to listen attentively to God in reflective inward silence and in all simplicity to speak for or against ourselves whatever His light discloses to us at the moment we seek to open our heart.[1] When we know ourselves better, we can improve our understanding of others.

The Bible is not silent on the subject of self-conceit. King Solomon, who had every right to be conceited, since he was thought to be the wisest man in all the world. Even he recognized that we should not be impressed with our wisdom.[2] That’s why some foolish-minded people think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.[3] That why he urges us to be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their estimation.[4] And if you know someone who is consumed with self-conceit, share with them Solomon’s assessment: “There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise.”

No doubt this led the Apostle Paul to tell the believers in Rome not to claim they are wise, otherwise they will become utter fools.[5] Instead, live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all![6] If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.[7]

[1] François Fénelon, Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 23-25; Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda.

[2] Proverbs 3:7

[3] Ibid. 12:15

[4] Ibid. 26:5

[5] Romans 1:22

[6] Ibid. 12:16

[7] Galatians 6:3-4

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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