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I am sure that each one of us can easily relate to what St. John is describing in this step. Vainglory is the beginning of pride; it is the congratulation of self for work well done. It is the desire to be recognized by others; the love of praise. St. John writes: "The spirit of despair exults at the sight of mounting vice, the spirit of vainglory at the sight of the growing treasures of virtue."


What are the signs that we have succumbed to this passion and been overwhelmed by this demon? St. John list several. Vainglory enters our lives when we grow concerned about what other people think about us. It puts down its roots into our hearts when we begin to worry about their disapproval and to be pleased by their approval. It captures our hearts when we enjoy their words of praise. It takes over our hearts when we begin to work for these words of praise that bring us joy.

How can we conquer vainglory? St. John is very clear in his instructions. "The first step is overcoming vainglory is to remain silent and accept dishonor gladly. The middle step is to check every act of vainglory while it is still in thought. The end (insofar as one may talk of an end to an abyss) is to be able to accept humiliation before others without actually feeling it." These words are so easy to type and to read - - but not so easy to put into practice.

John knows that we must work to gradually change our intentions. His advice as always is very practical. "If ever we seek glory, if it comes our way uninvited, or if we plan some course of action because of vainglory, we should think of our mourning and of the blessed fear on us as we stood alone in prayer before God. If we do this we will assuredly outflank shameless vainglory, that is, if our wish for true prayer is genuine. This may be insufficient. In which case let us briefly remember that we must die. Should this also prove ineffective, let us at least go in fear of the shame that always comes after honor, for assuredly he who exalts himself will be humbled not only there but here also. When those who praise us, or rather, those who lead us astray begin to exalt us, we should briefly remember the multitude of our sins and in this way we will discover that we do not deserve whatever is said or done in our honor."

It is very interesting that St. John insists that the battle against pride is either won or lost here. "A worm, fully grown, often sprouts wings and can fly up high. Vainglory, fully grown, can give birth to pride, which is the beginning and the end of all evil." What a valuable insight for the spiritual life. What a great source of hope it is to know that we can deal a fatal blow to our pride by working on our attachment to the praise of others. Each day we can take small steps; asking ourselves difficult but honest questions: "Does my behavior change when no one can see me and when no one is around?" "Do I find myself telling others about all my spiritual efforts and blessings?" "Do I find myself replaying what others have said to me or what I have said to them over and over again in my mind?" "Do I act and talk as if I have experiential knowledge of spiritual truths that I have only read about?" "Do I become discouraged and quit when no one notices what I do or when I do not receive the praise and thanksgiving I think I deserve?" "Do I hide my sins and failings from others, even to the point of lying or shading the truth so that my true faults are not discovered by others?" "Do I become defensive when I am criticized? Do I feel the need to always make sure that everyone knows why I did something?"

Again, this is not easy. But the promise St. John holds out should be enough to make us keep trying: "Anyone free from this sickness is close to salvation." 
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