In one of his talks to the faithful, the Servant of God (on the way to being canonized a saint) Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan laid down ten typical diseases that destroy our inner peace and relationship with the Lord. It was in Vietnamese, so I thought I share it with the wider audience today by summarizing it (and adding some personal thoughts) in English for you. His points are accurate and I hope you will spend some time to reflect on which ones are heavy in your heart right now, which ones that are lingering and sucking the peace of the Lord from your own spiritual journey.
- Living in the Past — We are all guilty of this. We like to either get stuck in our own self-created pities or the past glory days. It is so hard for many of us to get past the things that hurt us or the days when we thought “we had it all.” Often times, we are so stuck with the shadows of the past that we cannot see the present moment. We are so occupied with what had happened, hence end up missing out what is right in front of us. We are so preoccupied with all of the “should’ve,” “could’ve,” or “would’ve” that we forget that God gives us many wonderful opportunities in the present moment.
- Pessimism — This happens when we choose to live without faith, hope, and charity. Everything around us is filled with the typical “doom and gloom” cynicism. We cannot find joy the present moment, missing the sense of childlike wonder and awe to embrace the small moments of grace and beauty, because nothing is good enough. We end up isolating ourselves from many people because we do not allow joy to permeate within us, be recognized and enlivened, nor shared among us. We live as if there is no divine goodness, providential love, or eternal life; hence, faith, hope, and love become meaningless. We cannot be happy for others or by ourselves because we do not know how to be simple and joyful in the present moment since we are too stuck in how things are not the way they are supposed to be while losing sight on how things are.
- Focusing on Glamors and Successes — Too many of us spend too much time and effort in making a name for ourselves that we have no time to breathe and enjoy the simplicity of life, the quality of relationships, forget to embrace what is important for us and gives us life. We become objective people and have no problems in objectifying people like chess pieces in our little game of manipulation and advances, just as long as we get what we want. We think that the things that will make us glamorous and successful will make us happy, as if money, prestige, wealth, and power will somehow give us true joy. We turn materialistic things from instruments into ends themselves, and that is why we are not happy.
- Individualism — We think that the whole world revolves around us and we are the sole criterion of truth, judgment, and happiness. We only think about ourselves and our own goods instead of others. Nevertheless, individualism often turns us against our own self-created standards of happiness, and in turn, quickly help us to create our version of hell. We are never satisfied because we are tough and demanding on others, thinking that no one understands, meets the standards set by us, or cannot get what we try to pervade. We end up isolating others and living in our own hellish reality of dissatisfactions and despite others; nevertheless, we are complete ignorance of our own mistakes and failures.
- Sloth and Cowardice — While it is easy to be demanding of others, we often end up slothful and cowardice with our own self. We are too afraid of looking at our spiritual priorities and lack the courage to change to become what Christ wants of us as His disciples. It is easier to make the excuses that we are busy or to put the blame on others instead of letting go and conforming our lives to what the Lord has set out for those who believe. This slothful and cowardice attitude affects how we avoid doing what is right as well since we are too worried about our own self and what is only beneficial for us. Justice and truth are not important because we do not care about anything outside of ourselves and higher than what meets the eye or our own calculated benefits.
- Secularistic Expectations on Faith — It is humanly easy and tempting to boil down faith to a calculative, manageable, transactional, and objective matter. We often look at God like a provider of our materialistic needs, a genie to grant us our wish, a vending machine of favors, or in an “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” mentality. We boil down everything to a demanding, immediate, worldly, and objectifying mentality, totally different from what faith truly is supposed to be. We end up losing scope of the beatific vision and eternity because we demand the materialistic and earthly goods here and now. We have become too obsessed, addicted, and possessive of what is here and now that we lose focus on what is truly good. We forget to lift up our hearts and demand that God stoops down to provide for all of our earthly wantings. We often stop short but want much from Him.
- Miracle Monging — There are also many of us who often like to demand or wait on miracles to happen in order for God to prove that He loves us or that, “He still got it!” These are often people who like to pray for miracles and tend to look for wowing, extraordinary, spectacular works of grace to be done to capture their breath away in order to feel the presence of God or to know that He loves them. When we think along these lines, we tend to objectify and base our measurement of His love for us on a quantifiable or human scale instead of focusing on the quality of the relationship. Contrary to the secularistic expectations of faith, we (over)spiritualize matters and falsely create a very unstable, sentimental, and shallow version of our faith relationship, not based on love or of self-giving but on seeing what God can do. Faith becomes benefits-based, too, since miracle-mongers spiritualized these benefits in quantifiable and humanistic terms as reasons, conditions, expectations, and sometimes as demands to believe.
- Pleasure Seeking — When we only care about what is satisfying or pleasurable at the moment, we become focused on our own self and our egoistical needs. We measure life based on hedonistic happiness and not eternal joy. We become demanding, and even at times depressing, because we do not get what we want as we specifically want them. This can almost be compared to an addiction where one searches for a sentimental high as to escape what is really going on instead of allowing themselves to see reality with feet on the ground and with real hope. This is dangerous because we think being sentimentally satisfied or emotionally pleasurable will make us happy, but it really does not. We lose focus on the real meaning in life because we chase after the things that are false, ejaculatory, and short-term in nature without knowing what truly is nourishing and satisfying. Whoever chooses to run after short-term high’s always end up dry and empty after its momentary effects wear out.
- Irresponsibility — When we choose to live life without responsibility, we stop to care about the consequences of our actions, words, and deeds and how they affect others. When we become self-centered, we only worry about how things will benefit us instead of thinking about the good of others or the greater good of all. Irresponsibility destroys relationships and plagues society because it eliminates trust and the desire to work together for a greater goal. When we stop caring and considering about people as part of our decision-making process with proper dignity and respect, we end up objectifying, manipulating, and controlling other people less than who they are and what they deserve. It gets dangerous when we are willing to count other people as if they are simply chess pieces to be played and used, as if we have the right to do so and know better than others. It gets detrimental when we think of others less than us and somehow our own good or happiness is more than important than others’, especially when we are willing to risk everyone’s goods to get what we want at all costs.
- Division — There are many people who like to feed on gossips, hearsays, or create divisions and enjoy doing so. There are also people who like to save their face and keep their pride up by making reconciliation hard, forgiveness impossible, mercy or compassion nonexistence. We expect and demand people to meet us on our own terms without learning to discern, listen, and willing to meet others in the middle. Divisions hurt, but some people are willing to risk it all to have things their ways. Some will use their version of the truth to defend their points without willing to discern together with others to seek what is good for the rest in the light of the Gospel and its value. Yet, division is often the act of pride, caused and influenced by the Devil to keep us from coming together as one, brothers and sisters, members of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body.
Please spend some time to reflect on which one of these things are keeping you and me from seeking the peace that comes from God. If we have more than one, it is important we be humble, honest, and genuine in owning up to our reservations, fears, or unrealistic expectations and demands as to seek unity, reconciliation, and to live in the fullness of His love for us and one another. This is not a one time purge or working of ourselves but a constant journey of prioritizing our lives as to truly live in the fullness of His grace with faith, hope, and love. Let us learn to let go of our own self as to rest and live in His loving peace and to extend that peace to those around us.