Today, I’d like to talk about the capital vices of vanity (or vainglory) and envy, and the corresponding virtues that work against them. Usually people think of vanity as just being obsessed with how we look, and spending an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror. But the vice of vanity is best described as “vainglory,” which literally means seeking out “vain glory,” or seeking empty praise from others. Now it’s important to note here that God has created us for greatness – he has created us for glory! So in a sense, it is our purpose to strive for good things – to strive to attain glory. But a vice pertains to having a disordered or inordinate amount of something good. So vainglory is having an inordinate desire to show our greatness.
My first assignment as a priest was to Blessed Sacrament Parish in La Crosse. While there, I would often go over to visit the grade school students at Blessed Sacrament School. It was always a great place to go when you were having a bad day. The little kids would get all excited to see the priest. They would all wave and say, “Hi Father Burish!” as I would walk through the halls and into their classrooms. Well, a year or two later when I was teaching high school at Aquinas, and then later at Columbus, needless to say, I didn’t exactly get the same kind of affirming response from students. If I said hello to a high school student in the hall, sometimes I was lucky if they so much as made eye contact and grunted in response. I came to see that the energy high confidence booster I received from the grade school kids at Blessed Sacrament was a passing glory – vainglory.
How do we work against vanity or vainglory? We want to try to develop the corresponding virtue of magnanimity, which means “greatness of soul” – desiring greatness or good things because they are great or good – and for the glory of God, rather than just our own glory. What are, or have been, our goals and ambitions in life? Have we been motivated more by magnanimity or vainglory?
Our next vice is envy. Envy is a sadness or sorrow for the goods and blessings given to others, insofar as their gifts differ from or surpass our own. Envy is seen as a perversion or disorder because it “loves” or desires what other people possess, rather than simply loving what is good, beautiful, and true for its own sake. Envy, it’s believed was the response of Satan to us as humans. Satan was created by God as an angel – a purely spiritual being. He rebelled against God and took many other angels with him. Satan envied us because God sent his Son, not as an angel, but as a man, who took upon himself our human nature.
I often think of the sin of envy in our own lives as a distraction given to us by Satan. What better way can Satan distract us from accomplishing the work God has given us to do with our own unique gifts and circumstances in life than by getting us to focus solely on what other have – and becoming sorrowful and resentful over it? We can become so paralyzed by that sorrow and resentment and trying to compete with what others have that we never really become ourselves as God intended us to be. We may never become aware of what God desires to bring to full fruition within us.
How do we work against the vice of envy? We strive to develop the virtue of fraternal charity. Fraternal charity (charity or love, being when we desire the good of the other for the other’s sake) is when we have a gratitude for the gifts and talents of others and desire that each and every person reach his or her full potential. In order to fight or work against this vice, I think it is best to do something concrete by, for example, offering a compliment or word of encouragement to the person toward whom we tend to feel envious. This works against sadness and our tendency to draw in on ourselves. Also, we could try to befriend (if they are not a friend already) and learn from that person. By trying to appreciate their gifts, they can enrich our lives, and we might be able to enrich theirs as well.