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Monday, February 8, 2010

Be Dead to Both the Praises & the Curses of Men

I read a book a few years ago that I think about a lot when I think about trying to live my life well. It's called "Ascending the Heights," by Father John Mack. It's basically a guide to pursuing virtue (and it's the easy version to a more complex book called "The Ladder of Divine Ascent.") Anyway, in this book, there is a story I really like about a Saint named St. Macarius of Egypt (that's him in the picture);

The story goes that there was a young man who wanted to become a monk. He went to Saint Macarius of Egypt and asked him, "St. Macarius, how can I become a monk?"

St. Macarius replied, "You must become dead to the world." But the young man did not understand.

"What do you mean?" he asked St. Macarius.

To which St. Macarius replied, "Go to the cemetery, and stand all day giving praises and honor to those buried there."

So the young man went to the cemetery, and stood all day saying beautiful, honorable things about the people buried there.

The next day, he went back to St. Macarius, and St. Macarius said, "Now you must go to the cemetery, and stand all day cursing and defiling the names of those buried there."

So the young man went back to the cemetery again, and this time shouted curses and insults at the people buried there.

He then went back to St. Macarius. "I don't understand how this will help me become a monk," he asked.

Then St. Macarius asked him, "What did the dead do when you praised and rebuked them?"

The young man replied, "They were silent to both praise and reproach."

Then St. Macarius replied, “If you wish to be saved, be as one dead. Be dead to both the praises and the curses of men. Do not become angry when insulted, nor puffed up when praised.”

The book goes on to explain a gazillion fantastic ways to be more virtuous, with such chapters as "remembering our mortality", "letting the past be the past", & one of my personal favorites, "keeping our mouths shut."

After reading this book, "Be dead to both the praises and curses of men" became one of my all time favorite quotes. I try to remember it when I've had a bad day and feel like people think I'm doing a bad job with something.

But it's also a good reminder that I shouldn't need praise in order to feel good about myself, either. I'm one of those people who just love to be praised. I really do appreciate it when my husband comments on how good the kitchen looks after I've cleaned it! But shouldn't I be able to get that same satisfaction without anyone noticing?

I'm working on it.

Are you driven by praise and criticism at work or at home? Try to notice your response to them this week, and see if you can "be dead" to both. Let me know how it goes!

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