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I Discovered my Root Sin is Vanity; I’m Struggling with This

Dear Father Edward, 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.

It is good to hear that God has given you the grace to understand yourself better. Even if you feel more humbled, remember that “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Let's recall that vanity is an offshoot of pride. Whereas pride prompts us to put ourselves ahead of God and others, vanity makes us value the esteem of others more than the will of the Almighty. Admitting that vanity is our root sin can be a little embarrassing, especially if we perceive it as a defect of the immature or thin-skinned. In fact, vanity is more common than we think. And if we are not careful, it can worm its way into every pore of daily life.

Vanity has its obvious manifestations. We might be fastidious about our clothes, for instance, so as to attract attention. This helps keep the fashion industry solvent, but the downside is that it fuels the fires of egotism. Vanity has its subtle forms too. Let's take the case of a neighbor who prepares a nice tray of lasagna for the bedridden mom down the street who can't cook for her family at the moment. On the surface this seems a charitable deed. But deep down the person really might be doing it: 1) to show off her cooking skills, and 2) to ingratiate herself with this mom who happens to be the socialite beauty of the neighborhood. Or maybe a person works hard to carry out a project at the parish. The task took a lot of time and, by golly, he won't pass up an opportunity to remind folks of his great sacrifice. In these two cases the good deeds done might not seem so good in the eyes of God. Vanity thus loses the graces that would otherwise flow from laudable deeds.

JeanEtienneLiotard07MirrorVanityIt can be a rude awakening, to say the least, to learn that we are vain. Suddenly all those “good deeds” we thought we were doing now appear as they really are: ego-feeders. That might be what the comment about the “rose colored glasses” meant. When we uncover vanity in our life, it sheds a different light on things. It can leave us feeling like a phony, a bit dejected.

Like other root sins, vanity is a response to a person's insecurity. Maybe the person felt rejected as a child. Maybe he felt that he was never good enough for mom or dad. Maybe he felt overshadowed by a star sibling with an IQ of 173. Whatever the case might be, he felt insecure, and he has been looking for security in the esteem of others ever since. This isn't the solution, however. The solution is for a person to put his security in Christ alone, to value Our Lord's judgment above everyone else's. And why not? Christ loves us more than anyone else does. He died on a cross for our salvation. His love continues to this day, which is why he allows certain challenges and dry periods in our life.

God might be leaving you in just such a state right now. Now that you understand your root sin (a grace in itself!), God wants to lead you further along. He does it by taking off the training wheels, so to speak. Not only does he want you to detach from your reliance on the opinions of others. He also wants you to detach from your expectations of how he shows his love to you. It is not that God has abandoned you; rather, he has probably just taken away the consolations you might be expecting to receive in prayer. Why does he do this? He does it to purify your intentions. He wants you to pray and work solely for love of him. He doesn't want your devoutness to be based on good feelings or, heaven forbid, to allow it to feed any kind of egotism. In a sense, God wants his followers to break with vanity completely, especially since it can creep into the prayer life. “Oh, I was so fervent today at prayer/Mass/adoration … I'm really a great person.” Enough! says Christ. Do things for love of me alone. So God is testing you right now. He has led you into the desert and taken away consolations, all for the purpose of your drawing closer to him. Perseverance is the key now. Stick with your prayer life, no matter how dry it might seem. Have frequent recourse to the sacraments. Practice charity especially with those who are difficult to deal with. In this way Our Lord will forge in you a purer heart. For his glory, not yours.

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

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

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Art: Young Girl Singing in a Mirror, Jean-Ètienne Liotard, 18th century, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. Other: file copy.

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  • Rachel Pineda

    Thank you for this insight and this blog is a very good tool for all souls. Thank God!

  • Guest

    Thank you, Father Edward . This Post is a wonderful beginning of this new Year Lessons. May God give us His Grace to read, internatize and grow Spiritually from the Posts in this Website

  • Marisa Schembri

    Peace Fr Edward, Today I read your reflection for the first time. I knew something about vanity and pride but this article was explained very well. I do appreciate your cooperation in explaining to us How Great is Our Lord and how he works for our salvation. Thank you indeed! May the name of The Lord be glorified.

  • LillianLaruan

    Fr. Thank you for this explanation of vanity and pride.. made me open my eyes wide so I would be able to identify times I’d like to be so vain just for the sake of me.. Thank you and God bless.. May God give you the strength & inspiration to keep these posts coming

  • Woodycos

    Thanks Father Edward. This explains things very well and puts new perspective on my understanding of vanity and my search fro my root sin.

  • Mich

    Thank Father, that was very helpful.
    God Bless all you do.

  • Guest

    Father Edward, re-reading this Post has led me to face head-on another reality – and the situation I daily grapple with. That is self-doubt about the purity of my intentions and my motives for my daily Spiritual life, my Prayer pattern, Holy Hour Adoration, attendance of Holy Mass and reception of Holy Communion, Eucharistic Apostolate of the Divine Mercy Devotion and duties to my Parish where I live in the City and to the Parish in my home area along with the various Development and Parish activities I am actively involved in in these two Parishes. Though I am absolutely sure God is with me, hears my Prayers – and I have many times experienced His responses when He has on many occasions granted me what I have prayed for – I still cannot shake the feeling of doubting myself why I have set the Prayer patterns and Spiritual Schedule which I follow religiously. I always have a sneaking feeling in the background of my mind that there is some pride and ego-feeding reason lurking behind my fidelity to my Prayer life and service to my Church. Try as I do, I have not been able to shake this self-doubt. Can you enlighten to me why this is so?

  • Amanda

    One of the things that has helped me most with the root sin of vanity is the “Litany of Humility”. I still struggle every day with mixed motives and a sense that I am worthless unless other people like me and think that I am caring, helpful and generous. It’s really not nearly as bad as it used to be though DG. For a vain person the Litany of Humility is an enormous challenge, but pray it daily, eventually you WILL mean it and the Holy Spirit will cange you through it. “The truth will set you free” indeed. Freedom from vanity means detatchment from the fear of how others perceive us.

    O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
    From the desire of being esteemed,
    Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the desire of being loved…
    From the desire of being extolled …
    From the desire of being honored …
    From the desire of being praised …
    From the desire of being preferred to others…
    From the desire of being consulted …
    From the desire of being approved …
    From the fear of being humiliated …
    From the fear of being despised…
    From the fear of suffering rebukes …
    From the fear of being calumniated …
    From the fear of being forgotten …
    From the fear of being ridiculed …
    From the fear of being wronged …
    From the fear of being suspected …

    That others may be loved more than I,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

    That others may be esteemed more than I …
    That, in the opinion of the world,
    others may increase and I may decrease …
    That others may be chosen and I set aside …
    That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
    That others may be preferred to me in everything…
    That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

    • Mary Christ

      This makes my heart very sad. I shall be in repentance. Have you not read, have you not heard, have you not felt in your heart that it is the heart of Jesus we are to please not our own. There is nothing wrong with assisting those in need, but it needs to be done in secret, quietly. But do your almsgiving in secret so that only your Father sees.

  • Ann

    Fr., I strongly feel that my root sin(s) are pride/vanity. Is it a mortal sin to have prideful/vain full thoughts? I try to banish them, but sometimes I dwell on them without really thinking until afterwords. I keep feeling extremely guilty!

    • Dear Ann – These thoughts are not mortal sin. Keep up the fight. Every time you have them, turn your mind to some admirable attribute of Christ. No need for guilt – just turn to Christ.

  • vweil_1970

    Wow.  Thank you so much.  This was truly a revelation.  Awesome article. Expose the enemy, even the ones in our hearts and minds.  Bless u sir.

  • Carol Goodson

    I was sad recently because I felt unloved by someone I deeply admire: my parish priest… so I went to Jesus expecting to be consoled, and what I discovered was exactly this: vanity. He made me understand that I will never achieve humility until I can rid myself of the need to be judged well by others, and that the ONLY person’s judgment I need to be concerned about is His: all else is just distraction from my love for Him. This was a painful revelation, but one for which I am very grateful. I want to be perfect for Him, I truly do. +

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