One of the sayings of the Desert Fathers that has always fascinated me is this. “To love Him is the only truth, the rest is all vanity”. To love Christ is the only thing. Vanity is a big enemy. It makes one believe one is bigger than what one really is. “Woe to the man whose fame is bigger than his works!”
What is important to a vain man is appearance. Abba Nestorius was walking with a brother one day in the desert when they came across a serpent. They fled from it. The brother was surprised at this and said to him: ‘Father, were you, too, afraid?’ The old man replied: ‘I am not afraid but yet it was useful to me to flee because if I had not I should not have escaped the spirit of vanity’.
A vain person looks for recognition. A follower of Christ is eager to look for the last place. An abbot had a great reputation in the world and Christ decided to visit him. He approached the porter in the guise of an old man and asked for a meeting. The abbot was in conversation when the porter approached him and answered he was too busy to see the old man. So Christ waited patiently at the door. At about five o’clock in the afternoon, a rich man arrived and the porter hastened to announce him. The abbot came to the door to greet him and Christ humbly approached saying: ‘I wish to speak to you, Father Abbot’. But the abbot did not even reply, but pushed the old man aside and ushered in the rich man to a welcoming feast.
After the meal, the abbot escorted his visitor to the gate and said his farewell then turned and went back inside, forgetting the patient old man who stood there waiting to speak with him.
As night fell, Christ showed himself to the porter and said: ‘Say to the abbot: “If you want worldly glory, then because of your past good deeds and the way you have lived I will send to you visitors from the four corners of the earth to flatter you. But as for the riches of my kingdom, you shall not taste them.” To beat vanity, the desert fathers suggest, “Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even in the unlikely possibility you find you have a clear conscience, still do not think that you are perfect, because that very thought destroys everything!”
Recently the Pope canonized the Canadian saint, Brother André Bessette. For nearly 40 years Brother André worked as a porter at the College of Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur, Montreal. Speaking about his assignment as doorman, he once quipped, “When I joined this community, the superiors showed me the door.” Washing floors and windows, cleaning lamps, bringing in the firewood, opening the doors to welcome visitors, doing housework, picking up mail at the post office and, weekly, couriered laundry to and from resident pupils’ houses…. This was his life. This was his road to sanctity! A man who defeated vanity.
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