The danger of self-righteousness

By: Fr. Roy Cimagala

THIS is the irony of ironies. That is when one earnestly pursues the path of holiness and does practically everything to be good and holy, and yet ends up the opposite of what he wants.

This is the danger of self-righteousness. That’s when one practically has the trappings of goodness and holiness and yet misses the real root of righteousness who is God. It can be so self-deceiving that one becomes fully convinced he is righteous.

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.

If one is truly righteous with a righteousness that is a participation of the righteousness of God, then he should include in his idea of goodness and holiness the essential virtues of humility, compassion and mercy.

He should have the love that God manifested in Christ, God made man to offer us the way, truth and the real-life meant for us. And that love includes love of one’s enemies. It’s a love that can go all the way to offer one’s life not only for his friends but also for his enemies.

Yes, it’s true that Christ said that that there can be no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friends. (cfr. Jn 15,13) But St. Paul said that “God proves his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5,8)

In other words, even if we consider ourselves enemies of God because of our sins, God continues to love us. For God, we are all his friends, his beloved, no matter what the circumstances are.

In fact, if we study closely the life of Christ, he shows greater love, attention and concern for those who are far from him than for those who are already with him. This is what we can gather in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. He is only harsh with those who were self-righteous who, because of their status, should know better but acted wrongly.

A self-righteous person is a proud person, always feeling superior to others. He is afflicted with the disorder called perfectionism. He makes himself his own god, his own definer of what is good and bad, moral and immoral. He can hardly stand people who are not like him. They can know a lot, but unfortunately, that knowledge puffs them up rather than makes them more charitable.

Their disorder of perfectionism usually makes them very strict and fastidious, somehow betraying the scrupulous kind of conscience that they have. Because of that, they often become narrow-minded and rigid in their ways.

The self-righteous persons are prone to make rash judgments and end up bitter and irritable. It would be no wonder that they feel isolated like an island detached from the continent, and any show of sociability is simply just that, a show, an act, a performance, devoid of the proper substance and spirit.

They can profess ardent if not fanatical belief in Christ, but a Christ without the cross. They simply focus on what they consider as the exclusivity of truth without the inclusivity of charity. They prefer ideas and values over persons in their concrete conditions with all their charms as well as their warts.

They usually follow a certain game plan, otherwise, things are not considered right. They are closed-minded and have a low level of tolerance when plans are changed or unforeseen events happen. They abhor surprises. Because of all this, they often end up anxious since they know they cannot control everything.