Monday, February 8, 2021

Not “Me too”, not “me two”, but “me three”.

One of the greatest challenges in attaining any degree of maturity in the spiritual life is to live life with the belief that “my life is not about me”.  To be sure, I am not saying at all that a healthy spiritual life necessitates self-loathing and any form of self-hatred.  But if humility is the requisite of a spiritual person, then one of the effects of humility has to be the antithesis of self-promotion, self-glorification or self-centeredness.  The supreme example of this is in the way the three persons of the Holy Trinity love.  Their love for the other is so pure and so total that there is no self-reference and self-protection but a full giving of love.  With each receiving of the love from the other, the recipient cannot but return this love in a total and undiminished way.  


What I just tried to put into figurative language in a very simplistic and perhaps clumsy way is what theologians call perichoresis.  When we understand that this cyclical giving and receiving of the love of God in his three persons is what sustains all of existence as we know it, it has to follow that our human experience of love mimics this selfless and other-centered pattern.  This gives the strongest reasons why for any human experience of love to convey truth and purity, there has to be some form of the denial of self.  It’s not that God wants us to die in order for us to be loved. 


In our own interpersonal relationships, be they in our families, in marriages or just among people in general, there is a hierarchy to follow when it comes to loving.  


The first love is our love of God.  Taken from what the Jewish tradition calls the great shema from Deut. 6:4-5 we are reminded and instructed that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our being and all our might.  


The second love is for the other person.  Grounded first in our love for God, we turn next to our fellow human person, and this includes our spouses, our blood relations, and who Jesus defines as ‘our neighbour’.   


The third order of love is the love of the self.  The problem that plagues a large majority of the human population is that we tend to reverse this order and love ourselves first, others second and (maybe) God third.  When God is not the base and foundation of our lives, God will also not be the base and foundation of our loves.  God easily then gets treated in some periphery way, like as if he is an attachment to life, not unlike what a printer is to a computer.  The computer can run just fine without a printer, but it is only when some hard copy is required that the printer is sought and used.  


Both marriage and family life face great challenges to be lived well and flourish.  In my experience of counselling and helping families to grow and flourish, I often see that the family’s awareness of God and love of God isn’t often their first priority.  The attention paid to gaining financial stability, getting the childrens’ academic needs sorted out and secured are often what gets most of the family’s resources.  While these are not often deemed as gods in their own right, the kind of attention and devotion these get do in fact end up with their being worshipped rather than God, often relegating the spiritual life and the family’s relationship with God to the back burner.  


This arrangement may appear fine at the onset, but it is when these ‘gods’ turn on us, and we see how limited their ability to give us true stability, happiness and contentment that we begin to flounder and lose our mooring in life.


Directly speaking about this doesn’t often work in getting Catholics to reprioritize their loves.  Instead, many may choose to believe it in a cerebral way, but carry on with putting the love of God as the last in the order of priority and importance.  If reading this short reflection has started you to rethink the way you are ordering your loves in life, then perhaps it has done some good.  


The spiritual masters have always reminded us that there should only be one order to our loves in life – God first, others second, and me third.  And there are plenty of good reasons for this.



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