Beware of presumption and self-righteousness

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

YES, we have to be most wary of these two spiritual anomalies that can easily come to us. In that gospel episode where Christ talked about the last judgment, he told the goats—the evil men—that precisely they had these anomalies.

“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels,” Christ said. “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.

“Then they will answer and say, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” (Mt 25,41-45)

We know that the anomaly of presumption leads us to think that since God is always merciful, compassionate and understanding, then we can do just about anything. We would immediately rationalize that God will always understand and forgive us of our sins that we could have avoided.

In fact, we would think that we have some kind of license to sin, since God is always merciful. A presumptuous person is usually a reckless, over-confident person. He is deaf and blind to the possibility of divine retribution. He most likely has a lax conscience.

We need to wage to lifelong interior or ascetical struggle, since in this life we have to contend with all sorts of enemies of God and of our soul.

As long as we struggle interiorly, there is spiritual life, the very wellspring that produces the living water for our river of life. As long as we struggle interiorly, we can be assured of our fidelity to whatever commitment we have entered into. Interior struggle is essential and indispensable in our life.

We also should be most wary of the spiritual anomaly of self-righteousness. It usually takes advantage of our natural inclination to seek the truth, the good and the beautiful in life—in short, what is right—and corrupts that inclination because it is not properly rooted on the ultimate source of righteousness who is God himself. It’s so blinding that it can even assume the appearance of holiness.

Most prone to this illness are those with some special endowments in life, be it intelligence, talents, wealth, fame, power, health, beauty, etc. When all these gifts are not clearly grounded and oriented toward God, the source of all righteousness, the problem starts.

This is the irony of ironies because one can earnestly pursue the path of holiness and does practically everything to be good and holy, and yet ends up the opposite of what is intended. That’s when one practically has the trappings of goodness and holiness and yet misses the real root of righteousness who is God.

This was well personified by the Pharisees, scribes and other elders during the time of Christ. They preferred to stick to their own ideas of goodness and holiness, their own laws and traditions, and went all the way not only to be suspicious of Christ, always finding fault in him, but also to finally crucify him.

A passage from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans can serve as a graphic description of this sad phenomenon. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” (1,22) he said.