Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Self, Selflessness and Soul

Father John J. Lombardi

Q.: What is the most counter-cultural message of the Gospel?

A.: Selflessness and suffering. Besides Love of God, these are at the heart of the Gospel. It's this Sunday's Reading: Jesus Christ says: "If you want to be my follower you must deny your very self, pick up your cross and follow Me" (Mt. 16: 24).

Following are some reflections on Selflessness…

We're Lost without the Cross: Ie., when we don't' have the negational and purifying power of Jesus cutting away at our selfishness, then we will hang on to ourselves which drag us down. In essence, then, as Meister Eckhart, Dominican master observes: The spiritual life is one of subtraction, not addition. Many people today have either rejected the Cross (too heavy, too dreary, to outdated, etc.) and exclusively emphasize the Risen Jesus or God is Love,etc…So: Grab your crucifix, remember, it's Both: No Cross, No Crown. Train your soul to think of the Cross and sufferings as like "spiritual scalpels" to peel away sinful self, encrusting ego and imprisoning will. Then you'll be found.

Jesus' Formula: He says- "Whoever wishes to save his lfie will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Mt. 16: 25 ). Most people get it the wrong way-trying, as we say, to "get a life," by self affirmation, hubris and egoic pride. Humility and self-abnegation is the Way of Jesus: It is in becoming small ("self-wise") our souls become tall. The way of the world is not the Way of Christ. Perhaps this is why the First Pope-St Peter-reacted so strongly against Jesus--Peter expected the fireworks of ego and political prowess to overcome Roman oppression and worldly troubles; instead Jesus delivers a Cross , suffering and purification of self. The Gospel is often opposite our expectations. Are you fully prepared to deny self, and embrace True Gospel Liberation?

Stations of the Cross-they're not just for Lent anymore: pray and walk them all the year thru. They will teach the way of Freedom, Salvation and self abandonment. Like: Station II-Jesus picks up His Cross-so, pick up yours. I.e., your suffering, your trials, offer them up-let them purify you…Station : Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross. Leave the adulating crowds, all your comforts and popularity behind and embrace selflessness and suffering for His Glory and other people's aid. Remember- The Way of the Cross and Stations are the Royal Way!

Vocation or Vacation?: Many Catholics want a "discipleship-as-vacation" plan-an easy ride, cotton candy Christianity, etc. No, Jesus calls us to enter into Eternal Life thru the Narrow Gate (Mt. 7:13 )-thru self-negation. For some men and women today this may mean a religious vocation (150 seminarians here at Mt St Mary's Seminary this year!). But, because many young people do not want to deny self, or haven't been taught--they will not consider becoming a sister or a priest. Teresa Graupner, who is part of our Grotto Choir is soon entering the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Michigan: let us pray for her! This is a gigantic negation of self: having no big wedding, no children, no more immediate family or home life, embracing poverty, chastity and obedience. What women today are running to this negation of self?! But Teresa (and another young lady from our area) is gaining life-joyful community with many other sisters; living an intentionally devout life of discipleship; teaching others in Catholic education, loving Jesus and Mary and esp the Holy Eucharist This selflessness will lead Teresa to a soul filled with divine love and, though certainly no vacation, is a vocation of heroic holiness…Will you consider this kind of selflessness?

Selflessness is counter intuitive: One of the First Laws of Life, they tell us, is self preservation. Jesus commands the opposite-self death, self abandonment, self denial. So: it will not be easy to follow Him-you will fight against yourself, your intuition, the world's push and cultures' connivances and allurements, even, possibly, some home-brewed, individualistic-modernist spirituality which preaches self-fulfillment and personal happiness before God and others. Our knee-jerk reaction is rejection of self-rejection; but our supernatural soul response should be to lose self to find it.

Mary's Magnificent: She prayed-"My soul magnifies the Lord"(Lk. 1:46). Selflessness is transparent; but selfishness is opaque. Spiritual Virginity and selflessness is filled with light, and, because it is gracefully-airified by God's grace the Virgin magnified the Lord by becoming selfless-by embracing and then doing God's will, not her own. How will you do His will, give up your own?

Irony: It was in college that, as part of my philosophy degree in study of Eastern religions-Hinduism, Buddhism,etc.(with the doctrine of annata= annihilation of self), I was somehow able to delve more into this message of selflessness. Popular Christianity, including some parts of Catholicism, was basically neglecting or rejecting this important teaching. Seeing it from another perspective-from the "exoticness of the East," perhaps, or because, really, I found out, that self-negation is part of Natural Law-"written into the human heart," into our "hard drive" no matter who we are, and mysteriously diffused by God's grace, I was attracted to this Natural Law Truth-giving up self to find soul. God used that-Eastern studies and seeing the pervasiveness of an eternal Truth, to propel me deeper into my own Catholic Faith and so I eventually embraced and deepened this Way of selflessness, knowing it is God's Way of freedom, versus, like so many in the contemporary world, rejecting it, Ergo: selflessness is an eventuality that God has implanted within the Way of all, so don't avoid it! Choose Jesus' Way sooner than later.

Doctrine and Selflessness: St Jerome says about the Transfiguration of Jesus and the Disciples reaction (cf. Mt. 17)-"First fear is expelled so that afterwards doctrine may be imparted." Okay, upshot: Some may fear certain doctrines of the Bible and Church, like selflessness, contraception, abortion, male priesthood, etc., because they threaten our earthbound desires. But, remember: God would never command something of us which would threaten our supernatural happiness, our salvation, our human freedom! Jesus will purify any fears you have (produced by self/ishness) if you let Him, and you, like the disciples, may be able to believe once the unenlightened shell of self is purged, which glues you to bad beliefs and perilous practices. The saints bought the Lord's and Church's Teachings hook, line and sinker, and they never sank: rather, they rose to glorious heights! So can you: Believe, purify, let go.

Irony # II: The more we focus of selflessness, we may, sometimes, paradoxically, become overly self-oriented, producing more ego, more self, more "I". This is the opposite of Jesus' Plan! So, while we may do fasts, humiliations of self, and confessions, remember that there are starving people in the world, and even perhaps someone across the table or street who needs our help. Don't get locked up in your own pursuits or make a "spiritual egoism" of selflessness. Ergo: it's not either or-either self death or Pollyanna charity towards others, but it's both-sacrifices and giving. We have to remember The Goal-Love of God and love of neighbor. Ask: Does your selflessness lead you Fruits of Charity? Does self denial inspire you to pray more, to seek Jesus in His distressing disguises of the sick, poor and dying? If it doesn't then your selflessness may be too narrow and, really, more "I-centered." How tragic. Progressively purify by the "both-and" of Jesus Way.

St Paul's Daring and Divinity's Entrance: He says- " It is no longer I that live, but Christ Who lives within me" (Gal. 2:20). Let Him-Christ-live within. Pray more; allow Him to overtake you. Be not afraid.

St John the Baptist on Selflessness: "He (Christ) must increase, I must decrease" (Jn.3:30). What are ways you can decrease (from taking out the trash to giving time to your church) and what are ways you can allow Him to increase in you (seeking and doing His Will; witnessing His Truths to others)?

Culture of Narcissism-the contemporary world sometimes wrongfully appeals to our sensual self-to our pleasures, hobbies, passions, desires---enticing us to want more, so that we are in seeming constant need, and enchained by an always-wanting self. This narcissism drives not only our economy but also our culture and sometimes religious practices. How can we break free? Self denial is a way-to liberate and heal the wanting self and know what the soul really needs.

Paradox: when we deny ourselves, give up selfishness and self seeking, self pleasures, etc., it is then we make room in our souls for God and thinking about others.

St Paul II: He exhorts- "Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted thru deceitful desires and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way…" (Eph 4:21-22). What do you need to put away, die to, and live for? It's never too early to begin.

The Question: What is God's Will? Answer= to seek, embrace and extend what He wants-salvation and liberation. Memorize and imprint this within our soul, your will, all your choices. You need to detach from what you want, selfishly-it will ensnare you. "Think vertically"-of what God wants and this will help you detach from the world of whims and self's enticements.

The Question Part II: Ask--What do I want, versus what do I need? Ask this question frequently and you may be saved-from a lot of self-worry and inordinate self-seeking. So, What do you need?-- You need God to save you. You need The Most Holy Eucharist. You need love-holy fellowship with others, community, examples to be inspired from. You need food and shelter. You need a program of spiritual salvation, renewal, regand all such practices of detachment from selfish self which holds on to resentments.

Paradox II: We have talents and gifts which should be used for the Church, the community, for God. So, somewhat confusedly, in the process of heroic spirituality and selflessness, thru a "camouflage connivance of self," we may bury these treasures, neglecting or rejecting them . But selflessness doesn't mean we need hide these God-given gifts. He wants everyone to be His Light, His instrument to save souls. So, take the Middle Road Approach: affirming and using talents from God while denying pride and self. Use your gifts for God and others--selflessly!

Selfless persons I have known: Some parents-they deny what they want, say watching tv or relaxing with a drink, or pursuing a hobby-so that they may spend time, quality time, with their children. I see them giving heroically, sacrificially…A Priest: He was known as "The Bean Priest" in Haiti, who left his comfortable home in Belgium and who fed 300people everyday with beans and rice-he was celibate for the Kingdom-a kingdom of poor, sick and starving souls-everyday, for decades …A Saint I interviewed one time was constantly self-effacing. The more I tried to investigate her personal likes, tastes and earthly personality, the more she artfully and elegantly dodged the egoic-seeking bullets and talked of Jesus, the poor and following the Gospel. She was obviously not interested in self but the Savior …Selfless Soul: When I went to India this Summer with thirteen men we were a little nervous-about the food, heat, the culture, staying healthy,, serving the poor, etc. But: one night at Mother Teresa's convent we met Jeannier-a young collegian who traveled by herself to India, without connections, who stayed at an "Indian Motel 6" (complete with bugs and bare bunk), worked with poor, orphanage children, gave up her own money and time, and risked, at nighttime-risky-Calcutta-streets, to go to Mother Teresa's to pray a Holy Hour-by herself. Selflessness is heroic, beautiful, inspiring!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi