Give Truth a Chance

Note: Some readers seem to have had trouble noticing satire and irony in a couple of recent columns, so we alert all visitors to this site that there may be humorous intent behind Fr. P’s “plan to improve self-esteem.” – RR

If you were to judge from the popular media, one of the most serious problems we have in our culture is the lack of self-esteem. We just don’t seem to value ourselves enough – many believe.

A couple of weeks ago, Louise Hay, a self-help author, died. She was immensely popular, but I confess I never heard of her until I read the obituary.  One of her books sold 50 million copies.  Here is a sampling of her wisdom (from her NYT obit):

        • Every thought we think is creating our future.

• My happy thoughts help create my healthy body.

• Only good can come to me.

• I always work with and for wonderful people. I love my job.

• In the infinity of life where I am, all is perfect, whole, and complete.

So each of these lies is worth millions of dollars. No wonder so many people want a piece of the self-help action. So here is a plan to improve self-esteem, self-worth, and feeling good about ourselves. (I’m not greedy. Modest six-figure speaker fees would suit me just fine.)

No. 1:  Define justice on your own terms and claim your rights

In the parable of householder sending out workman for the day, the householder pays a just day wage to all of them, regardless of the number of hours worked. (Cf. Mt 20:10-15)  Those who worked more hours were quick to notice the “injustice” and to claim foul, even though they agreed to the wages in the first place.

A person with self-esteem is not troubled by what he owes others in justice. He’s troubled by what he thinks he should receive – by his personal standards of justice.  It’s not fair when others hit the jackpot of life.  Follow your dreams and demand your fair share of the pie.

No. 2:  Never take No for an answer

In the Gospel, Jesus observes:  “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, ‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’” (Mt 11:16-17)

Improve your self-esteem and self-image by ensuring that everyone around you –including your superior – dances to your tune, and never take no for an answer.  Self-esteem is very fragile. Demand what you want and when you want it. You deserve it.

Ladder of Divine Ascent, 12th century [St. Catherine’s Monastery, South Sinai]
No. 3:  Keep a keen eye on the faults of others

In the Gospel, Jesus asks, “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (Mt 7:4)  We feel better when we direct our attention to the faults of others. Fuel your self-esteem with feelings of superiority. Cultivate those feelings with a vigilant attentiveness to the faults of others, with a never-failing eye for detail. You are God’s gift to the world.

No. 4:  Project your own flaws on others

In the Gospel account of the “woman caught in adultery” (Jn. 8), the evangelist does not report, “The woman and man caught in adultery.”  It’s a fair guess that one of the men holding a rock to be tossed in her direction was guilty of the same sin and the other men knew it. So those holding the stones likely deflected attention from their own sins and projected them on the prostitute. We’ll never know for sure, of course. But that’s the point. Deflect attention from yourself in matters of sin, and project your sins on others. Claim the high moral ground. Life isn’t always wonderful but you are.

No. 5:  Master the art of idleness and gossip

Saint Paul suggests indolence is the basis of the busybody vocation: “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.”  (2Thessalonians 3:11).  When we disparage others, we build up our opinion of ourselves and that’s the stuff of self-esteem. Increase your idle time by neglecting your responsibilities at home and the office and use your time to talk about others.

No. 6:  Disguise evil motives with geniality

Judas Iscariot was given thirty pieces of silver and devised a plan of, well, execution.  So in the Garden, “there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?’’ (Lk 22) Mission accomplished!  Thirty pieces of silver elevate self-esteem to a very high level. Be fulfilled with a happy face and a kiss.

With these six easy steps, you will grow in self-esteem in the ways of the world.  You’ll be selfish and self-absorbed, demanding of family members and figures of authority, hypercritical of others, a gossip and a busybody, and even a traitor.  In short, you will exude self-esteem. Trust yourself and insist you feel good about yourself.  And don’t be confused by the facts.

Thank you.  My speaker fee is $10,000.

Of course, some of us may find these lies wearisome and unsatisfying. The truth can be painful. Jesus does not offer us a formula for self-esteem.  He wants to save us from our sins. “she [Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21)  He wants to be confident in Him, not in ourselves.  “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”  (John 15:10)

He wants us to have a clear conscience and peace of soul.  “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)  But His way is not easy.  “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

No lies. Words of truth and eternal life. So forget about self-esteem. Give truth a chance.

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.