From our very youth, the secular world has taught us that success, accomplishments, performances, creativity, should be the goals of our earthly existence. We are trained to feel some sort of awe for those who "have made it," be it in the world of business and finances (Ted Turner is a billionaire); or in the world of sports, entertainment or politics. This unhealthy adulation is dangerous because when a person succeeds we all tend to lose sight of whether the path leading to success is due to authentic personal achievements, or achieved by Machiavellian schemes: alas, in our society any means leading to power and wealth is welcome. Whether Papa Kennedy was a business genius or a crook becomes irrelevant as soon as his efforts are crowned with success. Recent history has taught us that to become President of the United States does not guarantee the moral integrity of the "victor".
Not only does the secular man wish to succeed, but he craves for the admiration of others. Man's fallen nature longs for praise (often confused with flattery), for commendation. He wants to be "affirmed," admired, looked up to. He likes to be given the first seat and play the first fiddle. Not only does he crave for the praise of others, but he wants to please himself. Narcissism is deeply implanted in man's fallen nature. We want "to feel good about ourselves," to find ourselves lovable and attractive. Consequently we resent any criticism that seems to challenge our self-image, however justified it might be.
The inevitable consequence of this attitude is that many men expose themselves to all sorts of sufferings: they suffer when their vanity has been offended; they suffer because they are allergic to criticisms. They suffer because another has succeeded where they have failed. They are tortured by the "green eye of envy." They suffer because they have been humiliated and are likely to respond with hate to those who dared criticize them.
He who, through God's grace, has adopted a supernatural stance will victoriously fight against these "illegitimate sufferings," i.e., the sufferings which are consequences of our false and sinful attitudes. God does not give his grace for such self-inflicted sufferings--this is why they are unbearable--but in his goodness--he does come to the help of those who carry a real cross--a cross that he has chosen for them for their sanctification, and for which they can count on his grace.
- Alice von Hildebrand