Archbishop Sheen's LIFT UP YOUR HEART, 1950
THE SEVEN PALLBEARERS OF CHARACTER
Egotism—an inordinate love of self—is the basic cause of all sins and of all unhappiness which lacks a rational cause. There are also other effects of self-love, so numerous that no psychologist has ever listed them in their completeness. Fear, for instance, is an isolation from our fellow men, a feeling that we are surrounded by foes bent on the destruction of our ego. Procrastination is the act of an ego refusing to face its responsibilities in order to enjoy its ease. Worrying about other people and "bossing" them result when the ego is trying to maintain itself as a center of the cosmos. The bore is the egotist struggling to increase his prestige, either by telling about the books he has read or the women he has wooed. Cursing is an art of the ego in rebellion against the God Who challenges its superiority or renders the ego uncomfortable. Freakishness in dress is the behavior of an ego in wild pursuit of attention. Defiance of the ordinary standards of society results if the ego sets itself above the rest of men. In the spoiled child's tantrums the youthful ego draws attention to itself. Hurry, hustle, bustle and two telephones on every desk are the outward sacraments of an ego bent on impressing other people with its own superiority. The telling of stories at the expense of someone else reveals the ego in jealousy or in envy.
At the root of every such disorder is self-love, the error in living which hatches out a brood of seven major effects of egotism. These—the seven pallbearers of character are Pride, Avarice, Envy, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Sloth. It is against these seven major forms of egotism that self-knowledge is directed.
PRIDE is too great admiration of oneself. The ultimate stage of pride is to make oneself his own law, his own judge, his own morality, his own god. The Evil Spirit first promised Eve: "You will be as gods." A man makes himself a god by the exaltation of his own will against God's Will; from this rebellion flows contempt of others' rights, excessive love of personal advancement the desire to be in the spotlight, and intolerance of opinions that differ from our own.
In the modern world, pride disguises itself under the prettier names of success and popularity. We are encouraged by quack psychologists to "trust ourselves" instead of trusting God. False confidence in the self is encouraged —although the only formula for a man's true contentment lies in his saying to God: "Thou alone art the Way, the Truth and the Life." The modern man's desire to serve the best liquor, his woman's ambition to be the best dressed, the college sophomore's hope of being the most studiously unkempt—these are symptoms of an egotistical vanity which makes its owners dread not being noticed. Criticism, backbiting, slander, barbed words, and character assassination are acts of egotism intent on elevating the ego on the carcass of another's reputation; each depression of another's ego is made an elevation of one's own. The more important the egotist feels himself to be, the more irritated he becomes when he does not receive worship; those who flatter him are called wise, those who criticize him are condemned as fools.
Today, a whole civilization has entered into a conspiracy to "make friends and influence people," by diplomatic self-deceit. All appeals to moral betterment are dubbed as "interference"; all intimations of truth are denounced as "intolerance"; talk about a law above our whims is hissed at as "authoritarian." Excuses are always at hand; everybody is wrong but the egotist. And yet it is a paradoxical truth that all egotists really hate them selves. Their excesses in drink and promiscuity, their violent aggressions against those who cross their self-will, their consciousness of an ever-widening chasm between their dreams and their realizations—these things react on their consciousness as cynicism and doubt, and on their unconsciousness as fear, dread, anxiety, and worry. The false self-love begets a violent self-hatred—an urge to sabotage the self, to punish it for not being perfect, for not living up to the ego's maniacal vision of the self as godlike and infallible. A man can hate himself in two ways: either by hating the vanity, conceit, and self glorification which do injury to his soul—and this is the way of, purification—or by hating whatever in him interferes with his pretense of being God—and this is the way of self-destruction, one of the clearest foretastes of Hell that exists on earth.
Egotism, if not arrested, becomes the source of an inordinate love of honors and praise, which the egotist seeks by virtue of his clothes, jewels, family background, notoriety, and bank account. The egotist instigates applause by boasting, ostentation, pompous display, and studied affectation; he justifies all the sham of his existence with a boast: "It is the only way you can get ahead in this world."
Pride has seven evil fruits; boasting, or self glorification through one's own words; love of publicity, which is conceit in what other people say; hypocrisy, which is pretending to be what one is not; hardheadedness, which is a refusal to believe that any other opinion is better than one's own; discord, or refusing to give up one's own will; quarreling whenever others challenge the wishes of the ego; and disobedience, or the refusal to submit one's ego to a lawful superior. Very often conceited people regard getting their own will as a more important gain than obtaining the thing which is withheld: it is the victory they value, not the spoils. That is why they will refuse to accept a gift that was not given to them at once when they first expressed their desire: they would rather punish the friend who did not instantly yield to them than have the object he withheld. In arguments they do not want to know the truth, but only to vindicate their own self importance, to reaffirm their own opinions.
AVARICE is a perversion of the natural right of every man to extend his personality by owning the things which minister to the needs of his body and his soul. Its disorder can come from desiring wealth as an end rather than as a means, or through the manner in which wealth is sought, with its disregard of others' rights, or in the way in which the money is used—to increase one's capital without limit, instead of using the excess to minister to the needs of others. Avarice readily leads to other, evil practices which are adopted to preserve wealth, such as fraud, perjury, dishonesty, perfidy, and harshness in dealing with others.
Avarice never calls itself by this name; it wears such flattering tags as "thrift," "security," "big business," and "drive." (Since each sin disguises itself by a similar semantic dodge, one has to look for each under its modern name. The real self, or the I, is discovered as soon as the superficial self discovers sin beneath its modern dress.) There are two kinds of wealth: real and artificial. Real wealth is limited. There are just so many potatoes that a man can comfortably eat, and so many suits that he can wear. But artificial wealth—in the shape of stocks and bonds and credit—is unlimited and is therefore infinite. That is why love of abstract wealth can become an insatiable craving which completely destroys the development of the real self.
Avarice is a sign that one does not trust in God but feels the need to be his own Providence. "So much for the man who would have none of God's help, but relied on his store of riches, and found his strength in knavery" (Ps. 51:9.) Unless corrected, avarice leads to several other serious defects of character: it causes an insensibility to the suffering and the needs of others; it creates anxiety and restlessness in the soul, which is continually bent on the pursuit of "more"; it leads to violence against others in the cause of protecting wealth; to lying, that the owner may acquire more; to perjury, that he may protect his hoard; and to treachery, as in the case of Judas.
Excessive love of luxury and ease is another sign of nakedness of the soul. The less character a person has, the more he needs to supplement it by external show: furs, diamonds, jewels, yachts are so many vain attempts to make the poverty-stricken ego rich. Having is confused with being; the egotist imagines that he is worth more, merely because he owns something that has worth. This is the one sin which is most apt to provoke contempt when we see it in others, and pride when we practice it ourselves. It is a psychological fact that the avaricious man who disguises himself as "devoted to business" is extremely difficult to spiritualize. He lives under the illusion that he needs nothing, because the only needs he admits are those which supply the body. "And Jesus looked around, and said to His disciples, With what difficulty will those who have riches enter God's Kingdom!" (Mark 10:23.)
ENVY is sadness at another's good, as if that good were an affront to one's superiority. As the rich are avaricious, so the poor are sometimes envious. The envious person hates to see anyone else happy. The charm, the beauty, the knowledge, the peace, the wealth of others are all regarded as having been purloined from him. Envy induces ugly women to make nasty remarks about beautiful women, and makes the stupid malign the wise. Since the envious person cannot go up, he tries to achieve equality by pulling the other down. Envy is always a snob, is always jealous and possessive. To the envious, all who are polite are castigated as "high-hat"; the religious they dub "hypocrites"; the well-bred "put on airs"; the learned are "highbrow." Envy begins by asking, "Why shouldn't I have everything that others have?" and ends by saying, "It is because others have these virtues that I do not have them." Then envy becomes enmity; it is devoid of respect and honor, and, above all, it can never say, "Thank you," to anyone.
Envy is related to pride, which also can endure no rival or superior. It is related to jealousy, as well. Jealousy consists in an inordinate love of self, mixed with the fear that we may be robbed of our complacency by others! We are envious of another's good, we are jealous of our own. Some egotists who suffer from these twin sins become carping critics of whatever good is done by others. They have to see that it is good, but they are angry that they, did not do it themselves and that they did not receive the honor it receives. Hence they seek to nullify its value by depreciation. Jealousy is psychologically very dangerous; it has led to suicide when the jealous person realized that there was no hope of catching up with his competitor.
Envy begins its course by seeking to lower the reputation of another, either secretly, by tale bearing and gossip, or overtly, by detraction. These succeeding, the term of envy is reached when there is joy at another's misfortune and when there is grief at another's success. 'When envy attacks another's spiritual progress or apostolic success, it is a grave matter. Much journalism today is founded on envy; it seeks to stir up conflicts, to arouse controversy, to contradict, to foster antagonisms, to belittle. This is due, in part, to the general feeling of discontent and unhappiness in most souls. Misery loves company. The inner conflicts of the envious seem diminished when the weaknesses of well-known men are spread before them. Readers who enjoy columns of scandals and gossip unconsciously seek to drag others down to the level of their own behavior. The truly charitable person is reluctant to hear of evil; and the Saint, when he hears it, keeps it to himself and does penance for it.
One of the most effective ways of counteracting jealousy and envy in ourselves is to say a prayer immediately for the intention of the person we resent. By referring our enemies to God and by spiritually wishing them well, we crush the psychological impulse toward envy. A second means is to try to emulate those who provoke our envy: the Church holds up the good example of the Saints, not to depress us, but to impress us—not to discourage us in our failings, but to encourage us to greater efforts. "Let us keep one another in mind, always ready with incitements to charity and to acts of piety." (Heb. 10:24.)
LUST is an inordinate love of the pleasures of the flesh. It is the prostitution of love, the extension of self-love to a point where the ego is projected into another person and loved under the illusion that the Thou itself is being loved. Real love is directed toward a person, who is seen as irreplaceable and as unique; but lust excludes all personal consideration for the sake of sensate experience. The ego mislabels lust with modern tags, pretending that such a sin is required for "health" or for a "full life" or to "express the self." The feverish attempt to give a scientific warrant to this vice is in itself an indication of how great a natural reluctance man normally feels for seeing this breach of the moral law as the sin it actually is. Men and women are bored and discontented today; they turn to lust to make up for their inner misery—only, in the end, to find themselves plunged into a deeper despair. As St. Augustine says: "God does not compel man to be pure; He only leaves those alone who deserve to be forgotten."
Lust is a shifting of the center of personality from the spirit to the flesh, from the I to the ego. In some instances, its excesses are born of an uneasy conscience and of a desire to escape from self toward others; sometimes there is a contrary desire to make the ego supreme by the subordination of others to itself. In its later stages, the libertine finds that neither release from self nor idolatry is possible for long; the soul is driven back to self and, therefore, to an inner hell. The effect of lust on the will is to develop a hatred of God and a denial of immortality. Excesses also deplete the source of spiritual energy to such an extent that one finally becomes incapable of calm judgment in any other field.
Lust is not sex—for sex is purely biological and is a God-given capacity; nor is it love, which finds one of its lawful expressions in sex. Lust is the isolation of sex from true love. There is no passion which more quickly produces slavery than lust—as there is none whose perversions more quickly destroy the power of the intellect and the will. Excesses affect the reason in four ways: by perverting the understanding so that one becomes intellectually blind and unable to see the truth; by weakening prudence and a sense of values, thus producing rashness; by building up self-love to generate thoughtlessness; by weakening the will until the power of decision is lost and one becomes a prey to inconstancy of character.
The effects an the will are as disastrous as the effects on the reason. In those who are repeatedly given to excesses, there is apt to be a hatred of God and religion and a denial of immortality. The hatred of the Divine comes because God is seen as an obstacle to self-gratification. Lechers deny God because His Omniscience means that their behavior has been observed by the One bound to reproach it. Until such men abandon their egotistic animality, they must insist an being atheists, for only the atheist is able to imagine that he is unwatched.
A related effect of lust is the denial of immortality. As the egotist lives more and more in the flesh, the thought of Judgment becomes more and more distasteful to him; to quiet his fears, he embraces the belief that Judgment will never be. The acceptance of immortality would carry a responsibility which the lecherous ego is afraid to face—one which would force him to transform his whole life, if he did face it. Any mention of a future life is apt to drive such a person into a fury of cynicism; the reminder of the possibility of Judgment increases his anguished anxiety. Every attempt to save such a man is regarded by him as an attack upon his happiness.
A belief in God and immortality would make the lustful ego want to be an I; but when he is not ready to give up his vice, he must refuse to dwell on such thoughts as these. It would be well for apologists of religion to learn, in dealing with egotists who are for the moment lost in the sloughs of lust, that a willingness to change behavior must precede a change in religious belief. Once a lecher gives up the evil, he will seek the Truth, for now he need not fear it.
Lust has nothing to do with the lawful expression of sex in a legitimate marriage. True married love is the formation of the "we," is the extinction of ego-centricity. In married love the I seeks the complete development of the Thou, of the personality opposite the I. There is no moment more sacred than that in which ego is surrendered to another personality, so that the need to possess disappears in the joy of loving the other person. Such lovers are never alone, for it takes not two but three to make love, and the Third is God. One ego loves another ego for what It gives, but an I loves another I for what it is. Love is the joining of two poverties out of which is created a great wealth.
Divorce, infidelity, planned unparenthood, invalid marriages are so many travesties and heresies against love and whatever is the enemy of love is the enemy of life and happiness.
ANGER is a violent desire to punish others. Here we refer not to righteous anger, such as that of Our Lord when He drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple, but the wrong kind of anger, which expresses itself in temper, vindictiveness, tantrums, revenge, and the clenching of the fist. Anger's disguise in the egotist's eyes is the desire to "get even" or "not to let him get away with it." In the press and on the platform anger calls itself "righteous indignation"; but underneath, it is still a mania to exploit wrath, to malign, and to foment grievances. Anger is very common among those with bad consciences; thieves will become far angrier when accused of theft than any honest man; unfaithful spouses will fly into a rage when caught in infidelity; women guilty of jealousy and malice "take it out" on their employees in the home. Those who displease such egotists are repulsed violently, and the good who reproach them by the pattern of their virtue are viciously maligned.
There are various degrees of anger; the first is touchiness—undue sensitiveness and impatience at the least slight. Because the coffee is cold at breakfast, or because the morning paper is late, the impatient ego nags and grumbles. The second stage is a flaring up of the temper, with violent gesticulation, blood boiling, redness of the face, and even the throwing of things; all of these are indications that the ego will brook no interference in the fulfillment of its selfish desires. The third and final stage is reached when there is physical violence directed against another—when hatred seeks to "get even" either by doing harm to another person or else by desiring his death. Many a man does not realize how much diabolical anger there is in him until his ego is aroused. Anger prevents the development of personality and halts all spiritual progress—not only because it disturbs mental poise and good judgment, but because it blinds to the rights of others and disturbs that spirit of recollection which is so necessary for compliance with the inspirations of grace.
Anger is always related to some frustration of the ego. It is particularly difficult to cure in others because it is rooted in self-love, although an egotist will admit that this is the cause. He would rather have his body hurt than his ego humiliated by such a meek acknowledgment.
GLUTTONY is an abuse of the lawful pleasure that God has attached to eating and drinking, which are a necessary means of self-preservation. It is an inordinate indulgence in the pleasures of eating and drinking, either by taking more than is necessary or by taking it at the wrong time or in too luxurious a manner. Gluttony disguises itself as "the good life," or as "the sophisticated way," or as "gracious living." An overstuffed, double-chinned generation takes gluttony for granted, rarely considering it a sin.
The malice in excessive love of eating and drinking comes from the fact that it enslaves the soul to the body and thus tends to weaken the moral and intellectual life of man. There is not today as much excess in eating as in drinking—modern man does not emulate the pagan Romans who used to tickle their throats after eating a meal in order that having disgorged, they could once again enjoy the pleasures of the table. The excess today is more apt to be in drinking, as the high incidence of alcoholism so well testifies. Medical authorities bear witness to the fact that hard drinking causes deterioration of the intellect and personality. Memory, judgment, concentration are all affected; personal pride and social judgment vanish. Among the moral effects are despair, a weakening of the will, and the materialization of life.
SLOTH is a malady of the will which causes neglect of one's duty. In the physical realm it appears as laziness, softness, idleness, procrastination, nonchalance, and indifference; as a spiritual disease, it takes the forms of a distaste of the spiritual, lukewarmness at prayers, and contempt of self-discipline. Sloth is the sin of those who only look at picture magazines, but never at print; who read only novels, but never a philosophy of life. Sloth disguises itself as tolerance and broad-mindedness—it has not enough intellectual energy to discover Truth and follow it. Sloth loves nothing, hates nothing, hopes nothing, fears nothing, keeps alive because it sees nothing to die for. It rusts out rather than wears out; it would not render a service to any employer a minute after a whistle blows; and the more it increases in our midst, the more burdens it throws upon the State. Sloth is ego-centrical; it is basically an attempt to escape from social and spiritual responsibilities, in the expectation that someone else will care for us. The lazy man is a parasite. He demands that others cater to him and earn his bread for him; he is asking special privileges in wishing to eat bread which he has not earned.
There are various degrees of laziness: indolence: a careless execution of work, the performance of a job not because there is pride in the work but merely to get paid for it; procrastination: the endless postponing and putting off of tasks until a tomorrow which never comes; listlessness: an aversion for effort in any form. Sloth can bear not only upon manual and mental labor but also upon spiritual progress. It makes one negligent in his works of piety, inclines him to shorten his prayers or to neglect them altogether; it may even degenerate into a hatred of things spiritual. Sloth becomes spite, when it leads to resentment against those who advocate our spiritual development; distraction, when it prompts the heart and mind to turn from the spiritual to the temporal; faintheartedness, when it seeks to avoid doing those things which are spiritually or morally difficult.
Self-examination always bears on one or another of these seven basic egotisms. It is hard to bear—the ego is reluctant to have itself examined. We tend to cheat ourselves through flattery: David begged God to search his heart, knowing that if he did it himself he would overlook serious sins. But self-knowledge is rewarding, for these two things go together: self-revelation and God-revelation. The more a person discovers himself the way he really is, the more he feels the need of God, and the more God manifests Himself to such a soul. He becomes singlehearted, easy to understand. The less a person knows himself, the more complex he is: a mind into which self-analysis has never penetrated has a thousand unrelated motives and concerns. Its complexity is due to a want of inner penetration and the failure to bring all things to a focus in a single human goal.
Character grows by leaps and bounds as soon as one has ferreted out the master egotisms and removed the disguises of the superficial self. Self-knowledge is really the reversal of criticism from those around us to ourselves. Observing the neighbor's faults raises our ego; as we depress the ego and face our own predominant fault, the neighbor who before seemed hateful takes on a new lovableness. By losing our own pride and vanity, we gain a world of friends.
The border image is taken from LOVE'S SHADOW by Frederick Sandys, 1846.