“Ask a Priest: How Can Vanity Be Overcome?”

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Q: I’ve been praying hard recently about the sin of vanity. I’m 37 and not really where I want to be in life, so the little signs of aging in my mirror are upsetting. I’ve prayed the novena to Mary, Untier of Knots and have also been reading The Sinner’s Guide by Louis de Granada about the sin of pride vs. the virtue of humility. Yet, I still find myself struggling whenever I look in the mirror. I’ve prayed fervently and tearfully about the situation, asking for God to remove my prideful disposition, and I have felt him answer my plea. But I was wondering if you could provide some additional guidance on conquering the sin of pride with the virtue of humility, not just in how I regard my appearance but in all aspects of life. I cry often about opportunities that I feel I wasted now. Rather than acting like this, I want to embrace whatever simple blessings God has for me. – M.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Vanity is often distinguished from pride. It can be defined as an inordinate desire to manifest one’s own excellence. A vain person seeks praise from others and might go to great lengths to get it. Vanity is commonly associated with an exaggerated importance attached to multiple details, especially external appearances.

Pride, on the other hand, “is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God,” according to the glossary of the Catechism.

So it seems as though vanity is your key problem, not pride. A few ways to fight vanity follow.

Cultivate a spirit of great charity toward everyone. Look out for the good of others, and be universal in your charity. Whether a person is attractive or unattractive, rich or poor — treat them all as you would Christ himself.

Also, look for ways to do hidden acts of charity. This helps you to detach from what others think of you and to purify your intentions. Ideally, you do things for the glory of God and not to draw a spotlight to yourself.

You might want to come up with a program for charity. Perhaps you could get involved in volunteer work in the parish — visiting shut-ins, teaching CCD to youngsters, etc. (This related posting on vanity might help too.)

What would also help is to go deeper in prayer, that is, Christian meditation. This could help you learn to see yourself more and more as God sees you, freeing you from some of the insecurity usually associated with vanity. To that end, my colleague Father John Bartunek’s short video on Christian meditation could be useful, as well as his book The Better Part, which could help you form the habit of prayer.

You seem down about not achieving more by this time in life. Let that be a motivation to make the most of the rest of your life.

The last thing you want to do is spend your time bemoaning what you haven’t done. It’s better to devote your time to things you can do.

None of this means you have to go around looking disheveled. It’s OK to take care of your physical appearance. But don’t let it become an obsession.

By focusing on the needs of others, you forget about yourself. And that in turn brings out a deeper beauty in you.

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4 Comments
  1. HI, as a girl myself. I understand. We are shown on the media that young is the best thing to be. We are actually being told that rubbish by old men making a heap of money.
    I see older women as inspirational, the most beautiful are the ones that look after themselves, but do so naturally for example, a bit of moisturizer to stop the skin being dry, so that they are caring for themselves, a little natural makeup and eating healthy lots of veg and salads as much as possible each day, 2 litres of water and fresh air and walking. Factor 50 every day even on dull days, (take vit D if you do this). caring for yourself is not vanity but it is looking after your own body and treating it with respect. Dont do facials they pull the skin making it age and running works with gravity pulls down the skin too.

    Things that people do nowadays that is indeed vanity and disrespectful to their bodies are: plastic surgery in order to look younger, spending way too much on procedures and they end up ruining themselves.

    God loves us all whatever we look like and aging is actually a gift, I find that some of the most beautiful women to me are ones who are older and I look up to those that are kind , yes they might have some lines, but hey lines are beautiful. Look we have been brainwashed over the years to think that one type of beauty is what we should be, that is for greedy people to make a heap of money. If these greedy people told everyone that everyone is beautiful and older is beautiful then people would be happy and not buy their products or spend money. See! we have been brainwashed. Now if the media started promotion old as beautiful and left the young out then the young would all be drawing lines on their faces hoping to look older!! You see we have been tricked.

    The most important thing is keeping in good health 🙂 see the beauty around you. In France older women are seen as beautiful. In other cultures too.

    So rise above the brainwashing that the media have done for decades.

    Mother Teressa she was so beautiful her grace and purity showed on her face and in her old age she had that beauty that is kindness as she kept God, and Jesus and Our Lady in her heart.

    37 is still very very young. If you want yes put a little cream on to keep skin healthy, a little tiny bit of Vaseline under the eyes and pat a little on the forehead and put it in with a light circlular motion each day on the forehead (not the eyes ) will help soften those areas. Do not touch your eyes every day, do the eye cream vaseline which is cheap only ever so often. The less you try to stop the ageing the better, as vanity often leads to those lines. Drinking water going vegetarian or semi vegetarian eating lots of salads etc is best.

    But do not worry about these lines at all, rise above it, you have a gift each day you have here on Earth. Be kind and pray the Rosary. Those with good hearts are the most beautiful in this world. Try not to live in the ways of this world live in the ways of our Father and God, happiness and peace can be found there.

    We are all in this world together everyone gets older if they are lucky. My grandmother is 96 and is so beautiful as she took care of herself, she does her hair and a little make up she has lines, lines are natural and beautiful.
    As I said I have given you a few wee tips for taking care of yourself, factor 50 is the best thing. This will help your skin be healthy. But when you next look into the mirror think about how you are a miracle, and how God made us all in his own image. Is that not beautiful?

    Do not worry, be kind and occupy yourself with good deeds, and look after your inner beauty which will shine through. Pray and ask for peace. I really hope this helps you. Vanity is something that can ruin us, it is something that can in the end hurt us hence we should not be vain in that way. Taking care of yourself though is important. There is a huge difference between the two.

    I am Catholic, and just thought I would come into chat and tell you what I think. Hope that was okay for me to do. Every step we make each day in life should be towards God.

  2. oh ps, I read in the newspaper about a 93 year old who went to university and at 96 he graduated he now plans to do his masters. I read about a woman who started a buisness in her 80’s. You are a youngster compared to them. Also life is difficult we are told and told and told that to be happy we must be successful and so in the pursuit of success we become more and more depressed even if we achieve that success because deep down we feel trapped and find out that it was never what we wanted it was what we were told to want.
    Have a simpler life. For example I am a singer, I think fame would be horrible so I avoid it and just sing when I wish to, I live simple in a little studio flat (and still I have much more that a lot of people in this world) I love the little things in life, crafting, cooking (I am not very good at these things but still enjoy them). We live in such a world were we are taught to be unsatisfied with these things. But I tell you people are finding out what happiness is that the more simple we run our lives the happier we are. And having time for even a decade of the Rosary a day is lovely.

    Avoid too much media and magazines etc they just want to cause us woman to be insecure so that they can make us so vain we spend too much money and in the end we become so unhappy.

  3. I agree with the above, but to be honest you sound a bit depressed , dwelling on the past and over examining past regrets is common with depression. Maybe you focus on the things you think you can fix because you can’t change the past . Maybe you should, as well as seeking answers in prayer, seek some professional help .

  4. Thank you Father Edward for this enlightening article. As usual your answers to questions are spot on. It clarified the differences between pride and vanity . May God continue his blessings and guidance upon you. Stay safe.

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a Lenten journey written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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