We have to be wary of this subtle spiritual disease called self-righteousness. It’s subtle because it usually afflicts one without him entirely knowing he is so afflicted. Self-righteousness usually prides itself as having the light always but a light that blinds rather than illuminates.
The common marks of a self-righteous person are many. Self-righteous people are often quick to judge, quick to comment on issues even without enough basis if only to bolster their views. They too are quick to stereotype people not so much to simplify matters as to suit their own interests.
If they happen to be quiet, it is not so much out of charity, prudence and discretion as out of having some mental reservations to hide things like grudges, critical and uncharitable thoughts, doubts, suspi-cions and the like. Actually, they are more dangerous quiet than when they talk.
They are often irrita-ble, and that’s because they make their opinions almost like dogma and therefore they find it hard to accept views other than theirs. They are what are called closed or narrow-minded people. They are difficult to work with. Often rigid, impatient and intolerant of others, they prefer to work alone or can work only with those who are like-minded.
They welcome only praises for themselves and their work, and consider suggestions, reminders and correc-tions as their mortal enemies. Averse to admit their faults, they are quick to find faults in others but to justify them-selves al-ways. They listen only to themselves.
To transform them-selves or to change some aspects of their life is almost impossible to happen. They find it hard to flow with the times. They are often stuck to a certain era, fashion, culture, etc.
They are guided only by their own ideas and estimation of things, made worse when they get the conviction that they are superior to others because of their social status, intellectual capability, wealth or academic attainment. The worst case is when they make their apparent spiritual superiority the reason for their self-righteousness.
They only see their point of view, and are blind to the valid points other opinions may have. Thus, they are incapable of salvaging the legitimate points of others, and of entering into some kind of tolerance and consensus if only to achieve a certain degree of agreement and unity needed in working together with others. They live in a kind of black-and-white world, and find it hard to suffer variations of that kind of world.
If they happen to work with great energy, most likely it’s done with bitter zeal. The finer require-ments of charity and delicacy are ignored or considered as a drag. They work more for their self-satisfaction than for the common good.
Since the source of their righteousness is their own selves, their goodness will sooner or later dissipate, and if not converted, they can only fall into hypocrisy and inconsistency, lies and deception to save their face. In the process, they harden some more in their conceit, and the slippery slope continues.
We have to do everything to avoid this anomaly to take hold on us. And the secret again is to be vitally united and identified with Christ who, in all the purity of the truth and charity that he is, knew and continues to know how to deal with everyone in all possible human situations and predicaments.
We cannot over-emphasize this truth. It’s only Christ who can show us what true righteous-ness is and what self-righteous-ness is. Christ precisely had to contend with self-righteous people among some of the leading Jews of his time. He showed them the shallow-ness and even the inanity of their views that were often stuck in legalism and complicated casuistry that is already devoid of common sense.
We need to go to Christ to be able to distinguish between truth and sophistry, between justice and pure revenge, between mercy and malice. We need to go to Christ to know when to be tolerant and when to be intolerant, when to be patient and when to be impatient.
To do this, we need to have an abiding, intimate relationship with Christ. This is always possible as long as we learn how to pray, offer sacrifices, wage continual ascetical struggle, have recourse to the sacraments, study the doctrine of our faith and morals.
In fact, we need to avail of a systematic plan of acts of piety that would support us all throughout the day in our spiritual life, so that we can have a living contact with Christ, and see, understand and react to things with him.
This is one way of avoiding the claws of self-righteousness. Fr. Roy Cimagala is Chaplain, Paref-Southcrest School, Banilad, Cebu City, Email: email@example.com.