Vanity and pride are among the most insidious temptations. They try to trick you into thinking you have greater virtue than you really do, and you end up not having much virtue at all because you've been fooled into thinking only of yourself.
We should be grateful for such temptations when they are obvious and we see them clearly; such experiences can help us to know our particular sorts of spiritual undoing. Examining them can help us to understand ourselves and the pitfalls that are particular to our temperament and thus help us to avoid them in the future.
This morning was a good example for me. The morning is the best time for me to write, and what I really need to be doing in these days is working on my leftover term paper from the spring semester. But instead of getting a good start on the writing today, I got sidetracked. I had to clean up the broken vigil lamp from the previous post. Then a visiting classmate wanted to catch up. Then I had to make another friar's breakfast. He's recovering from surgery and only has use of one arm.
So now when I finally get back to my desk it's already going on ten o'clock and I know right away that I'm not going to make any progress with Alexander of Hales today. The disappointment gets mixed in with the general frustration, difficulty, vocational anxiety and self-doubt that surrounds the whole project.
Into this moment of slight emotional depression comes the temptation, inviting me to think of myself as virtuous: after all, I gave up my own will, cleaning house, listening attentively, and then serving the sick. Look what a good and selfless religious I am, abandoning my own will in humble service to the brothers! Vanity tries to make these little good deeds into a big deal, even though they were demanded by the minimum of ordinary charity. The temptation invites me not to think of all the people in the neighborhood and the world whose charity, patience, and self-sacrificing care for their children and sick family members go far beyond anything I do or will to do.
So I laugh at myself instead, and ask God to continue to deliver me from my selfishness. As a sign of my desire for such a grace, I pray in thanksgiving for all of the folks doing secret, heroic charity out there in the world, and ask God to make me their servant.