The next youngest brother (in religion) who is here with me in community likes to play a game called "hypotheticals." It makes for some silly and light conversation to take the edge off after stressful ministry in this world of suffering. For example, we ask each other to choose between two hypothetical assignments, neither of which is attractive of the natural level. Or we choose two of the friars and try to make educated guesses about which one would win in a hypothetical fistfight.
The other night, though, my confrere got me with one which stuck with me on a more serious level:
"If there were some kind of illegal steroid that would make you a better preacher, would you take it?"
Of course I said no. But I have to admit, it would be a temptation. Probably not a temptation that would get very far, but one that would at least arise in my thoughts. The very fact that I could be tempted in this way reveals the admixture of selfishness present in my ministry. That I might even consider risking health and committing civil crime in order to be a better preacher, reveals that there is part of my ministry that is about me and not yet exclusively about God.
It's what the ancient fathers called kenodoxia, or vainglory. In John Cassian's treatment of this vice, he tells a hilarious story about a solitary monk who was spied in his cell pretending to be a grand deacon, dismissing the people, and singing the double alleluia to himself.
Nevertheless, such realizations as this are salutary in the spiritual life. When we have those moments that display the admixture of selfishness in our religious motives. Our prayer and our ministry are never a pure adoration, submission, and service of God. In this life there will always be at least a little bit of bad motivation mixed in: fear, idolatry, vanity, etc.
Our good and bad motives are like the weeds and the wheat that grow so closely together that it can be hard to tell them apart sometimes. A good and quiet habit of discernment and examination of conscience are the best tools in trying to know the difference, and this is the hardest ascesis there is. The Lord promises that he will harvest the wheat. Despite our mixed motivations, we know that the good that the Spirit has nurtured within us will be harvested unto eternal life. (Matthew 13:24 ff.)