Although not a widely held belief, there is a story that the word “sincere” comes from two Latin words: “sine” (without) and “cera” (wax). The folklore says that in the ancient world, some merchants would cheat their customers by using wax to hide defects in their pottery to sell it at a higher price. Because of this, other merchants would advertise their pottery as authentic, or “sine cera,” and this is how we get the word “sincere.” In the same way as the pottery should be without wax, we should be pure, or without wax, in our intentions.
When looked at closely, this virtue of sincerity can be seen as essential to practicing any virtue. Thomas Carlyle said, “sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic.” Without sincerity of heart, our actions mean nothing, and before we can practice virtue, we must be sure that our actions are truthful and genuine.
One of the most difficult aspects of practicing sincerity is the temptation to become different versions of ourselves around other people. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that the addition of another person brings the temptation to interact through “compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs.” We are tempted to cover ourselves up, and present a cleaner, more respectable version of ourselves. While we often present ourselves in a certain way because we are so focused on other people’s opinions, being sincere with ourselves means living our lives in the manner that we know is right, and being courageous enough to stand for our principles no matter what the world around us says.
There are many different ways to practice sincerity, but true sincerity starts with the self. We must have the courage to act the same around other people as we do when we are alone. This will create more trust-filled relationships, as well as making us more sincere with ourselves. We will be able to admit when we do wrong, and, while acknowledging our sinful nature, be able to challenge ourselves to fix our mistakes and become more virtuous.
Finally, a truly sincere person practices charity out of the kindness of his or her heart. At Boston College, we are all involved in doing some kind of service or somehow help our fellow neighbor in some way on a regular basis. However, we should be careful to consider our motives for doing such service, because our giving is only an act of sincerity and expresses a genuine concern for others when it is done out of the true goodness of one’s heart.
Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s favorite virtue was sincerity. He said that if we are sincere and show ourselves as we really are, we will acquire “that true godliness” and “ours will be the victories of God’s love, which bring peace, understanding, and happiness to the soul.” Sincerity breeds humility, and on this foundation, we can build our practice of virtue. In this time of Lent, let us resolve to become more humble of heart and sincere in our words and actions, so that we might serve our Father and come closer to our victory in heaven.