It can sometimes happen that even well‑intentioned people create personal problems — really serious worries — which have no objective basis whatsoever. These problems arise in persons whose lack of self‑knowledge leads to pride and a desire to be the centre of attention, to be favoured by everyone. They want to appear always in a good light, to be personally secure. They are not content simply to do good and disappear. And so, many who could enjoy a wonderful peace of soul and great happiness become, through pride and presumption, unhappy and unfruitful.
Christ was humble of heart. Throughout his life he looked for no special consideration or privilege.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
Why do you do these things? That was an interesting question put to a man one day. It is not unusual to hear this question when we have done something nasty and evil, but in this situation, the man had done something good. The funny thing is that the man was not really aware that he had done something good. That's the thing about becoming Catholic. You end up doing good things without thinking about them. Grace really does work. So, the man had this question put to him, and he had to think of an answer. So, he answered the question with another question. Why does an apple tree make apples?
The answer to the apple tree question is obvious. Apple trees make apples because that is their nature. Apple trees don't have ulterior motives. They don't think of how producing their fruit is going to make some money or get them a sweet job or even some tacky blue ribbon to stick on the fridge at home. Apple trees make those apples because that is what they were made to do. In a similar way, we are made for good works.
Doing good works is easy. The world abounds with people who give to charity or volunteer their time and talents for some good cause. But here's the thing. The reason why many of these people do these things, and you know about them is because they made sure that you knew about them. Their left hand knew exactly what their right hand was doing. But a good act done from impure motives ceases to be a good act. Even sinners will do a kind deed if they know it will get them something. This is why so many people will turn down a kind act because they suspect that at some point the quid pro quo will kick in, and they will end up owing somebody a favor in return.
The example of Christ is to do good to all with no expectation of reward or gratitude. Doing good may even get you mockery, derision, and abuse. But you still keep doing good just as Christ always did good. The lesson is simple. Be fruitful. Do good deeds and promptly forget them. Do them for the pure and simple joy of doing good. Do them as favors for Christ. Do good and disappear.
The sour apples come when we are not content to do good and disappear. We want to be noticed for our good deeds. We want to be rewarded. We want justice because we go from thinking of ourselves as dutiful servants to servants expecting a reward. This is how sweet fruit becomes bitter fruit. Often, people may have no inkling at all that we are becoming rotten on the inside even though we may appear to be saints on the outside. This is why it is so important to do a daily examination of conscience per the instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The first step on the road to holiness is to refrain from doing evil. This is the easy step. The second step is to start doing good. This takes a little more effort. But the real holiness comes from the third step which no one sees. It deals with the purification of the intentions of our hearts. A person can appear as an angel on the outside, but on the inside, he can be an absolute demon. It was pride that turned an angel into the Devil, and it is pride that can take down even a saint. As such, it behooves the saint to always be mindful of their own capacity for sin and evil and to remember the grace and forgiveness of God. No one can do good apart from God. Let that be the remedy for pride. Let us always remember how miserable we were without God and what we will become again without that Holy Love that burns in our hearts.
A saint is self-forgetful. That is the only term that I can use to describe it. The saint only sees the sin in his or her heart. We know people who are filled with pride or self-pity. But saints do not suffer from either affliction. They just do good things, and in the process, they forget. In confession and the Mass, we are forgiven. But it is in doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we are given the privilege of forgetting. Every act of mercy and penance erases from us all that is bad. The apple tree spends no time thinking about making apples or being an apple tree. It just is an apple tree. A saint is an apple tree producing sweet fruit and in abundance.