Be guarded against self-righteousness

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

GIVEN our strong tendency to fall into self-righteousness, everyday we should devise some kind of plan or strategy to protect ourselves from it. That effort that definitely requires a lot of sacrifice and self-denial, would always be worth it.

Self-righteousness is a danger most common among the so-called ‘good’ or ‘pious’ people. The descriptive words are in quotations since the goodness and piety of those afflicted with this vicious spiritual disease is only apparent, since it lacks the real substance of the real righteousness.

And that’s because their idea of goodness and piety, their idea of righteousness is not properly based or grounded, nor is it properly oriented. Instead of having God as principle and end of their life and actions, as shown and taught by Christ and actualized  through the abiding action of the Holy Spirit, they only rely on their own ideas that can be developed through some complicated and attractive ideology and philosophy, or some tradition and culture that are not properly inspired.

This spiritual anomaly of self-righteousness can show itself in many ways, like being quick to judge, to brand, stereotype and condemn people, slow to understand others and to forgive, not wanting to be corrected, being highly opinionated and wanting to have the last word always, to dominate others, etc. It is notoriously impatient.

That’s why, we should never let go of our duty to be humble and to find ways to make humility always grow and deepen, because that’s the antidote to pride and conceit, the very virus of self-righteousness. All our thoughts and intentions, our words and deeds should have God as the beginning and end. Thus, we have to continually devise ways of keeping God always in mind, and of referring everything to him.

St. Paul, for example, keenly aware of his high dignity and responsibility as an apostle, highlighted the indispensability of humility. “My speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom, but in the showing of the Spirit and power.” (1 Cor 2,3)

And in another instance, he said that he preached Christ crucified, “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (cfr. 1 Cor 1,23), to emphasize the fact that the real righteousness that comes from God is never triumphalistic according to worldly standards.

That’s why St. Paul gloried in his weakness. “It’s when I’m weak that I am strong.” And, “If I must glory, I will glory of the things that concern my infirmity.” (2 Cor 11,30) We should never think we are something, since everything good that we have comes from God. Let’s always remember that the only thing we can contribute on our own—without God—is evil, is sin.

We have to be most careful when we start to use our reasoning. Reason without faith and charity—in short, reason without God—is very dangerous. We can deftly use reason by citing all sorts of proofs, arguments, evidence, examples, doctrine and principles, stats, but if it is not inspired by faith and charity and delivered in humility, then it easily becomes a tool of pride, envy, hatred, revenge, deceit, etc.

Reason and truth should always be given in charity—“veritas in caritate,” as we have been reminded in an encyclical of Pope Benedict quoting St. Paul. It’s actually charity, the very essence of God (Deus caritas est), that gives reason and truth their true life and purpose, their living substance.

The real righteousness has charity, as shown by Christ, as its very soul!