A person who takes care not to offend the Lord and has entered the religious life may think he has done everything. But oh, there are always a few little worms that do not reveal themselves until, like the worm that gnawed through Jonah’s ivy, they have gnawed through our virtues. Such are self-love, self-esteem, censoriousness (even if only in small things) concerning our neighbors, lack of charity toward them, and failure to love them as ourselves. For, although late in the day we may fulfill our obligations and so commit no sin, we are far from attaining a point necessary to complete union with the will of God. (Teresa of Avila: Fifth Mansions: Chapter Three)
This is one of the biggest problems of the spiritual life: We “fulfill our obligations and so commit no sin”. We assume routine responsibilities like going to church along with the absence of overt sin is a spiritual accomplishment. But Teresa says, “we are far from attaining a point necessary to complete union with the will of God.” Too many “worms” have gnawed through our virtues. Teresa gives five examples:
- Self-love: This worm shifts our focus from family and community to excessive focus on self.
- Self-esteem: When self-esteem replaces self-knowledge we artificially build ourselves up and lie to ourselves about who we are. In self-knowledge we gain a realistic perspective of self and respond accordingly.
- Censoriousness: We judge others with severe criticism.
- Lack of charity toward our neighbors: We lack basic kindness, understanding, and gentleness in some of our most important relationships.
- Failure to love our neighbors as ourselves: We are unwilling to sacrifice even minor things for others.
We believe that by loving ourselves and advancing our own cause we win at life. So we avoid the “cost” of loving others and little by little we lose everything.