I recently read an interesting article in which the writer was drawing the parallels between Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. Among other things, one similarity was that they both appeared to be most comfortable and therefore most charismatic in front of large, supportive crowds, whether they are large rallies or small town hall style meetings. Trump has taken the unorthodox decision to keep holding campaign style rallies long after having won the election and Corbyn regularly talks of the mandate he gained from his own election win. Both men seem keen to reconnect with the adulation and worship they received rather than face the challenges that their respective positions pose.
St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises describes this process in three stages; riches to honours to pride. Success, however gained, can be an addictive event. We naturally begin to feel good about ourselves when something goes well and like to hear people praise us. When people say good things about us, we feel good about ourselves and our self worth increases along with our ego. We begin to believe the titles people give us and long to hear the applause of an adoring crowd. We begin to believe that we have earned this, deserve it and therefore seek more of it. We become proud.
Pride can be a positive feeling. We should be proud of an accomplishment which has taken a lot of effort and dedication to achieve. We should be proud when a loved one achieves recognition for their work. However we have to be aware that there is a fine line between accepting praise and seeking praise to fulfil our ego. If our ego drives us to seek success at all costs so we can be proud of who we are, then we are in danger of destroying ourselves in pursuit of success. When are self worth is attached to the riches and honour that others bestow on us then St Ignatius warns we can be pushed onto all the other vices.
Jesus faced a similar scenario in his final temptation. The devil takes him to the top of a very high mountain and shows Him the magnificence of all the kingdoms of the world; the awareness that there is good in all of us which needs to be celebrated. However the devil offers Jesus all of this as riches if Jesus worships him. In today’s society, worshipping the devil is a statement which can be hard to relate to. However it is more to do with who or what holds power over you rather than than prostrating yourself before a statue. Jesus is challenged to give up on who he is and let his ego dictate his decisions to achieve power rather than rely on listening to God and letting Him have control.
The temptation is a subtle one because by this point Jesus has already shown he trusts God to provide for him and shown he is willing to be part of God’s plan. The ultimate goal is the salvation of the world under Jesus’ rule so the devil is offering an easy way to achieve this. What does it matter how the end is achieved? Think of the effort saved, the personal suffering that will be avoided? The Mel Gibson film Passion of the Christ suggests this is the struggle Jesus had again in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet it is one we all face. Self righteousness is so easy to fall into for anyone. We create our own pecking orders and place ourselves on them, creating the ladders in society that define the winners and losers. It is a system that only serves to further uninhibited ambition and success at the expense of others; pride and self entitlement masquerades as fairness and justice.
The only way to end the cycle of continually seeking riches and honour and pride is to say like Jesus did that we should worship and serve God alone. We need to lay aside our pride, our drive to acquire more at any cost, our addiction to praise and the positive comments of need to get off the ladder and stop looking up and down and be humble as we look around at those beside us. We need to let the Lenten themes of fasting and alms-giving break us out of this cycle and help us rediscover humility. So please don’t read this blog, but if you do, don’t tell me it is any good.