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Vanity, also called vainglory, is an inordinate desire to show off one’s own excellence to others. It is also love of praise.
Vanity differs from pride. The proud person believes in his own excellence. The vain person wants others to believe that he is excellent.
Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 8, Sermon 12, wrote on vanity,
“… all persons may be tempted to indulge in vanity, which is nothing else but the love of general admiration. A vain person is one who likes to be praised, whoever is the praiser, whether good or bad. Now consider, how few men are not in their measure vain, till they reach that period of life when by the course of nature vanity disappears? Let all Christians carefully ask themselves, whether they are not very fond, not merely of the praise of their superiors and friends—this is right,—but of that of any person, any chance-comer, about whom they know nothing. Who is not open to flattery? and if he seems not to be exposed to it, is it not that he is too shrewd or too refined to be beguiled by any but what is delicate and unostentatious? A man never considers who it is who praises him. But the most dangerous, perhaps, of all kinds of vanity is to be vain of our personal appearance; most dangerous, for such persons are ever under temptation—I may say, ever sinning. Wherever they go they carry their snare with them; and their idle love of admiration is gratified without effort by the very looks of those who gaze upon them.”
“Now I shall say something upon the natural and rational love of praise, and how far it may be safely indulged. As I have already said, it is natural to desire the esteem of all those with whom we have intercourse, all whom we love. Indeed, Almighty God intends us to do so. When we love a person, we cannot but wish he should love us; but he cannot love us, without also feeling respect and esteem towards us. And as to the question, from whom we should desire praise, and how far, we have this simple rule—from all who stand to us in Christ’s place. Christ Himself is our great Judge; from Him we must supremely seek praise; and as far as men are in His place, so far may we seek it from men. We may desire the praise of our parents and superiors, and the praise of good men—in a word, all whom we have a value for; but the desire of indiscriminate praise, the praise of those for whom we have no respect or regard, this is the mischief. We may desire the praise of those we have never seen, if we believe them to be good men. St. Paul not only speaks of the mutual rejoicing between himself and the Corinthians 2 Cor 1:4 who knew each other, but likewise returns thanks that the fame of the faith of the Romans was spread all over the Christian world. Rom 1:8 And in this way we may desire the praise of good persons yet unborn — I mean the Church of God, to the end of time. St. Mary, in the hymn we daily use, returns thanks that ‘from henceforth all generations shall call her blessed.’ Lk 1:48 But this feeling of hers is very different from the desire of what is called glory, posthumous fame, fame after death; as if, forsooth, it were a great thing to have one’s name familiar to the mouths of the mixed multitude of this world, of swearers, and jesters, and liars, and railers, and blasphemers, and of all those men, who even if they do not sin grossly in deed, yet use their tongues for evil, speak the words of the world, slander the Church, speak evil of dignities, propagate error, and defend sinners; a great thing truly, and much to be desired, to be honoured by that evil world which dishonours God and His Son!”
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