Human Praise and Censure1. It is pleasant to be praised. If we are praised by our superiors or by someone of importance on whom the future success of our career may depend, we naturally tend to feel elated.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of reflection makes us aware that we are what we are before God, and nothing more. Human praise adds nothing to us, just as human criticism subtracts nothing. In either case we ourselves remain as we were beforehand.
“What thou art, that thou art,” says “The Imitation of Christ,” “nor canst thou be said to be greater than God seeth thee to be. If thou attend diligently to what thou art interiorly, thou wilt not regard what men say of thee. Man looketh on the face, but God seeth into the heart. Man considereth the actions, but God weigheth the intentions.” (Imit. of Christ, Bk. II, c. 6, 3)
Why, then, does praise disturb or exalt us? It is because our lack of humility causes us to desire the vain encomiums of the world and to believe that these make us better and greater than we really are in the sight of God. A man who is genuinely humble remains serenely indifferent to the eulogies of others. He knows that he is what he is in the sight of God, and no more than that. Therefore he does his best to please God and to work for His glory rather than his own advancement.
“He is not approved who commends himself,” writes St. Paul, “but he whom the Lord commands.” (2 Cor. 10:18) Let us cease to worry about the plaudits of mankind, but let us live and work conscientiously in the presence of God. Let it be our sole purpose in life to please Him and to promote His glory.
2. Criticism and correction disturb our peace of mind as much as the praise of others. We are filled with resentment and find it hard to control ourselves. Very often, unfortunately, when something is said to us which we consider to be offensive, we are overcome by anger and launch into bitter outbursts of recrimination. Once more, the reason is obvious. It is our lack of humility.
We know quite well that we are no better than we appear to be in the sight of God. Praise adds nothing to our stature, any more than criticism takes from it.
Unfortunately, while we realise this in theory, we do not recogise it in practice. It was because the Saints were meek and humble like Jesus that they reached such heights of spiritual tranquillity in the face of flattery or of reproof.
Even when he was mocked and calumniated, St. Francis de Sales succeeded in maintaining complete self-control and amiability. But this was the result of a long struggle with his natural disposition. Have you even begun to exercise self-control?
3. The following passage from “The Imitation of Christ” is a fitting conclusion to this meditation:
“The good man’s glory is the testimony of a good conscience. Have a good conscience, and thou shalt always have joy. A good conscience can bear very much, and is very joyful in the midst of adversity…
“The glory of the good is in their own consciences, and not in the mouth of men. The joy of the just is from God and in God…
“Great tranquility of heart hath he who careth neither for praise nor blame. Easily will he be content and at peace whose conscience is undefiled. Thou art more holy for being praised nor the worse for being blamed. What thou art, that thou art; nor canst thou be said to be greater than God seeth thee to be.” (Cf. Imit. of Christ, Bk. II)