"It is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones."
St. Frances de Sales
Vanity. What exactly is vanity? On initial thought, when I think of the word vanity, I think of someone who is conceited and desires the attention of another person or to be highly esteemed by others. Vanity is this, but it also reveals itself in other ways that are more subtle. In a video by Father Mike Schmitz, he talks about how vanity is "an inordinate preoccupation on what others think of you." He explains that it's good to care about how others perceive you, in order that they know you care about your relationship, but becomes inordinate when one seeks only to be thought highly of or admired. In the Beatitudes Our Lord states, "blessed are the pure of heart for they see God."* How does one attain purity of heart? It is attained through love of God and love of neighbor. Our every action should always flow from a pure intention. This is purity of heart, to choose always what will please God the more. It's so easy to have mixed motives and seek ourselves in our actions but this is contrary to attaining purity of heart. This pursuit of purity should be our priority from the moment of our rising, till we put our head on the pillow. For only the pure in heart will see God.
"Work hard every day at increasing your purity of heart, which consists in appraising things and weighing them in the balance of God's Will."
St. Frances de Sales
Growing up, vanity was something, and still is in many ways, a battle I struggle with. To have an inordinate concern of what others think and an inordinate desire to be admired. A priest had explained to me in the confessional that there is nothing sinful to delight in being admired, when all praise is directed solely to God. Father explained to me, that even Our Blessed Mother in the Magnificant had exclaimed that all generations will call her blessed. However, this exclamation is solely directed to the glory of God. She accredits nothing to herself, and everything to Him. Vanity is when one gives the praise to his person and not to God. For from God Alone do all good gifts come to us.
To have an inordinate concern of what others think is vanity, and so the person prefers to remain hidden or choose not to speak out. They're afraid of saying the wrong thing or standing up for what they believe in because they don't know how others will perceive them. This type of vanity is more subtle because it can be easily masked. Simply put, vanity is caring more what men think rather than God. Yet, God's opinion is the only one that matters.
Since God's opinion is the only one that matters, it is most fitting that even our appearance should be pleasing to Him. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body."* Our bodies are the temple of the Living God. I grieve when I think back on how I used to dress. I understand now that my dress was displeasing to God and also displeasing to myself. For I dressed in a way that was completely inappropriate and that sought the attention of men. There was no peace dressing this way, but in a false pursuit of love I thought that to win the approval of another, degrading my worth was necessary; this could not have been further away from the truth. When a soul encounters God, there is a profound understanding that there is no need win the approval of another, especially by degrading oneself. Rather, one is loved unconditionally, purchased with the Blood of Jesus Christ.
St. Ignatius of Loyola had battled with vanity as a young man. Yet, when he had a profound encounter with God, he lost all desire to be vain. This saint was completely overwhelmed by the love of God and sought nothing but Jesus. He neglected his appearance but realized that this neglect was having a negative effect on his evangelizing and people were not being drawn to him. St. Ignatius discerned that it was appropriate to take care of himself and to have his appearance pleasing to men. He understood that to look presentable acclaims to the glory of God. So, it's important to take care of one's appearance in a holy and modest manner, and to treat one's body as the temple of God. For God dwells in our hearts, so far as we remain in a state of grace.
"I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind."*
This life is so fleeting. Truly, like water slipping through our fingers. Everything is vanity in this life, save loving God and serving Him Alone. I assure you with all of my heart, that Jesus is worth everything and more. He Alone satisfies the thirsty heart. He Alone fulfills the deepest desires of the heart and He loves you beyond comprehension. If everyone understood these profound truths, we'd seek purity of heart in everything, in our thoughts, words and actions so as to please God.
Let us implore the Blessed Virgin, whose heart is immaculate, and ask her to make our hearts like unto her own.
St. Frances de Sales, pray for us.