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How can I overcome the root sin of vanity?

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Anonymous, Root Sin, Sin, Virtue

root sin of vanityDear Father Edward, would you be willing to post the virtues to overcome the root sin of vanity and pride also?

“Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” That line from the Book of Ecclesiastes rings as true today as on the day it was written. Vanity is one of the three root sins that plague humanity. Much of our economy is built on vanity, on helping people to maintain the right “image.” Think of the money spent on cosmetics and trendy clothes and flashy cars and SUVs (complete with vanity license plates).

How does vanity differ from the other two root sins of pride and sensuality? Briefly, we could describe pride as the sin whereby we put ourselves first, ahead of God; sensuality is where we put things first; and vanity is where we put the esteem of others first.

Like the other root sins, vanity springs from insecurity. We place our security in what others think of us. We constantly seek the affirmation, praise and respect of other people. We want to be seen as “cool.” Instead of focusing on Christ and letting him be the center of our concerns, we look to be patted on the back by others. “What will they think of me?” is a perennial concern of the vain person. This differs from the situation where we may desire that our qualities be recognized in order that God be glorified and that we have more influence to bring about good. Having and guarding a reputation for honesty, for instance, might help us to attract others to join us in doing charitable deeds.

Vanity can also manifest itself in shyness. We might worry so much about being accepted that we close in on ourselves and avoid contact with people. Other forms of vanity include gossiping, boasting, “stretching the truth,” and being paralyzed by human respect.

This root sin can also trigger sins against purity. In such cases, it is not the illicit physical pleasure that is sought as much as the feeling of being accepted by another. Alas, such “acceptance” often proves to be short-lived.

Commonly, vanity expresses itself in an undue concern for one's physical appearance. Or one might become easily discouraged by one's failures. Then too the vain person might give in to two-facedness or hypocrisy, abandoning his principles in order to “fit in.” A person might seek friendships with high-profile people, for sake of gaining attention. Such friendships can quickly lead to jealousies and bruised egos.

How can someone fight against vanity? Let's offer a few strategies. The first deals with purity of intention. This means doing good things for the right reasons. If a person does a “good act” out of a desire for praise, the act loses its value in the eyes of God. “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:2). The key is to do hidden acts of charity, the kind that only God sees. This builds intimacy with God and cultivates in us a healthy indifference to the praise of the world.

Another strategy against vanity is to cultivate love for Christ in others. That is, offer up good deeds to Christ. Learn to see him in others and love him in others. This awareness of the presence of Christ in others has motivated more than a few saints to heroic and universal charity. By universal charity we mean showing charity and kindness to everyone, regardless of their personality or temperament. This is no easy task. It is easy to be nice to someone who is likable. It is much harder to be nice to someone who is irascible or uncouth or ungrateful. That is why reaching out to a difficult person goes a long way in purifying our intentions. For at that point, we are charitable for love of Christ, not for love of praise.

Finally, learn to admit your mistakes quickly. This helps your humility and nurtures simplicity of heart. The sooner we get vanity under control, the sooner we live just for Christ.

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.


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  • VJ

    I heard this line in a movie the other day, “Am I enough for you?”. I pictured Christ asking me this and realized I came up short.
    Thank you, Father McIImail for writing this.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Father Edward McIlmail for this enlightening Post. Truly to overcome vanity requires special Graces from Christ especially in to-day’s world where being “politically correct” has made many, especially those in public and political arena, go as far as compromising their Catholic Faith. Am I right in believing that being overly self-judgemental is another form of vanity?

    • Janet Cardin

      Dear Mary,
      Being overly self-judgemental can be a form of vanity. However, this depends on what the focal point of this judgement is. If our focal point of this overly self-judgement is the Holy Bible, the Blessed Words of Jesus, then this cannot be viewed as vanity at all. However, if our focal comparison point are the laws and unwritten rules of current society, then yes, this is vanity.

  • LizEst

    Wonderful post, Father McIlmail! Thank you so much for this.

  • guest

    Thank you. This was very helpful.

  • CT

    Thank you for writing this. It really hit home for me and gave me the tools I need to cultivate a humble heart.

  • MW

    I just came to realize through spiritual direction, prayer and many graces that my root sin in Vanity!!! And I am having a very hard time knowing this fact. I feel like God is now leaving me alone (not feeling His presence) to test me and I am struggling with this fact. How do I continue to keep my faith strong and deal with the everyday insecurities in myself that I face? People have said to me that this “is where the rubber meets the road” and “I, too, use to see the world with “rose colored glasses,” but I really don’t understand what they mean! Thanks for your post and information. I am sure this journey is ongoing and I do thank God for all his gifts.

  • Elsiea2

    Thank you, Father Edward. Your article is a great help in my examination of conscience.

  • Dita

    This has helped me a great deal. I am a young college student, a woman  and am realizing this is my root vice. Thank you Fr. for writing this. Praise God for technology, google and men saying yes to Christ. Psalm 139.

    • Dear Friend: Thank you for the encouragement! Please pass the site around to your friends! Blessings to you.

  • liz, ohio

    My parish priest made a point of distinguishing vanity from pride in confession. Subsequently the word vanity and ‘what that heck does that mean beyond physical vanity?’ ran around in my head. A quick google and hear was my enlightenment. Thanks and praise God for modern technology put to good use. Liz, Ohio.

  • Maria

    so vanity is the sin of make yourself idolized? like for example working out to have the perfect body or to use creams to avoid wrinkles for me that was vanity i didn’t know you could also be vain in the spiritual way and forgive my english

  • Nancy Vail

    I believe this is true and have struggled with it. I believe that it is about trying to get the approval of others instead of putting our walk with God first…and this is very painful as it makes them always our judge instead of God, or love. We cannot love ourselves or even know how if we are constantly worried about the judgement of others instead of our walk with God.

  • Pingback: Root Problem for Obama, Hillary Clinton and Most Liberals is Vanity | CartaRemi()

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