Self-Complacency can be best described as the feeling of self-satisfaction and contentment. In the spiritual life self-complacency is a false feeling – it’s a lie, and, without question, is one of the most dangerous roadblocks to our advancement on the narrow way. What makes this false feeling so dangerous to the spiritual life is that those who have fallen into its trap actually believe that they have ‘arrived’ at a safe place, which, in turn, lends them to being dangerously unaware of approaching dangers, such as temptations and near occasion to sin.
There are three progressive degrees of self-complacency in the Spiritual Life. The first degree is directed towards self, the second towards neighbor, and the third towards God.
Before I law out those three degrees self-complacency, let us first discuss how it is that this false feeling comes about in the first place. It begins with the imagination – a vision – the creating of a picture in our head. For one cannot intentionally arrive at a place that one does not know about. It is very common for us humans to imagine in our head what a perfect or comfortable life would be like, and it is equally common for us to make that place our life goal, and it is subsequently common for us to effort and strive towards that place of imaginary contentment.
Well, one would ask, ‘What is wrong with knowing what will make you happy in this life and going for it?’ I answer that question by saying that there is nothing wrong with seeking peace in this life, as long as that peace is found only In Jesus Christ. Too often is worldly contentment based upon a lie; that is, too often is self-complacency in this world based upon ‘things’ that are not Heavenly goods and upon ‘persons’ rather than In Christ. For, he who has found peace, rest, and contentment outside of Christ has found something greater than Christ.
The first degree of complacency towards self looks a lot like what the prophet Amos was describing in the First Reading; ‘lying on their ivory beds, stretched out, eating food from their own abundance (not having to relying on anyone for anything), drinking out of bowls (rather from hands or buckets), and anointing themselves with the finest oils’. The progressive stages complacency always begins with this very first degree. When one ‘arrives’ at their imagined state of perfection or peace, it prevents them from going any further, and that is why complacency towards self always leads to slothfulness and gluttony. And it is also the case that everything that was being done up to this point of ‘arrival’ was also corrupt, because it was only concerned about the ends, rather than the means. That is, if my end goal is not to rest In Christ, then every one of my means was actually being directed towards facilitating the sin of my self-idolization. “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
For the second degree of self-complacency we turn to today’s Gospel Reading where we find the ‘rich man’ who was quite complacent. Being so self-complacent led him to being complacent towards his neighbor Lazarus. Being fat and happy blinds us to the needs of our neighbors. That is, as long as I am only pleased with stuffing my mouth, wearing the best clothes, living comfortably, I cannot simultaneously be pleased with feeding my neighbor, putting clothes on his back, or visiting him in prison. Because self-complacency is immune to empathy for neighbor, it always leads us to objectifying our neighbor, and that moral evil finds its company in greed, envy, and wrath.
The third degree of self-complacency is directed towards God. Because self-complacency is all about efforting to love oneself outside of Christ, it automatically impairs ones ability to love neighbor rightly, and because it is seeking a peace and contentment in this life that is separated from the one that Christ has to offer us In Himself, self-complacency does not have any room for God. Indeed, self-complacency is the chief host to pride and lust. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
To conquer the temptation of complacency, St. Paul offers the perfect formula in today’s Second Reading. Essentially, he is telling us to fight for sainthood, to never give up, to never quit; “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
The call of today’s Mass is for us to embrace of attitude of St. Augustine who wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” Indeed, there is no reason to be self-complacent for anything in this world, because there is always work to be done, Satan is always on the prowl looking for souls to snatch up, and only “the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
Blessed he who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.