Christian Life: Christ-centred Life Vs Self-centred Life
Fr. C.George Mary Claret
Christian Life: Christ-centred Life Vs Self-centred Life
We human beings by ourselves are nothing. We have no existence in ourselves except in relation to God and to a certain extent to other human beings and to the cosmos as a whole. All of us feel a sense of nothingness or vacuum one or the other time of our life. Spiritual giants irrespective of religion and time have warned human beings to be aware of it and taught to let God fill this vacuum; if not, one can become materialistic and consumeristic. Today humanity is facing the dangerous situation of being lost of the great purpose for which God created us, i.e., for Himself and in sservice for others! Many are unaware of this fact and are becoming victims of this emptiness which makes them cover this up by being proud of who/what one is (one’s appearance, status, abilities, achievements, relationships, power, wealth, etc) forgetting that all that one IS and HAS come from God and one must live in constant communion with God to live according to the plan of God. We deserve nothing - life, health, salvation, etc. Name it what! But today’s world where cut-throat competition and rat-race rule, the human world has deviated itself from the path of life to the path of death by drowning into the consumeristic philosophy.
Pride rules the world. ‘I’ is the reference point for everything. To secure this ‘I’ one is ready to do anything possible; thus values have no place here. Pride says that I am ‘great’ myself, expressing one’s self-sufficiency, -reliance, -confidence, -dependence, etc. It says that I am ‘better’ in comparison with others. Others are not as good as I am. It is the result of the uneasiness one experiences because of the void/vacuum/nothingness one faces. In order to solidify and feel safe one tries to cover oneself with all these, searching for self-glory, then to steal the glory of God, forgetting that it is the total unconditional self-surrender that will let us know who we are – children of God and not slaves of Him! It is possible only when we die to self, rid ourselves of our self-sufficiency, -reliance, -confidence, -dependence, etc., that we will begin to see that we are members of God’s own family, not by our merit but because God has made us so by His gratuitous grace.
Only when we realize that we are like braches dependant on God, the Vine for our very existence that we come to life. This is about what Jesus taught his disciples through his discourse on The True Vine, presenting himself as the vine (cf. Jn 15,1-11). We have no life without Him. Can the branches live by themselves? Absolutely not! What then must the branches do to live?
In this regard I would like to present some points in contrast to what the Post Modern World which is governed by a culture of self-sufficiency, consumerism, materialism, sexism, instant gratification, etc, considers important.
1.Realization of God:
According to St. Paul, everyone is given the power of reason to know from nature God’s eternal power and His very nature (cf. Rom 1,20). The nature reveals its contingency on the necessary Being (God) who gives life to everything, preserves them, and creates them anew. His presence can be experienced/realized in and though the nature. It is not that we are not aware of this fact; rather as Wisdom 13,2 reads, “… but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air …. were the gods that rule the world.” The author goes on to say that nature is only a creation of God, a means of divine revelation and not an end in itself.
The God-realization is the foundation for spiritual, meaningful, purposeful, and true human life. It is the realization that one has one’s being only from God and to ‘be living’ one must be attached to Him and have a healthy detachment from the creation as an expression of God-realization, God as the supreme Good!
2.Acknowledgement and Acceptance Of God:
The first stage is mostly rational, in the head-level. It can be called conceptual knowledge and it must become experiential knowledge, lived knowledge. Acknowledgement is not merely rational, but involves the entire being of a person. It means that one lives accordingly. Being aware that “in him we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17,28a), we live accordingly, humbly, lovingly and not proudly . In a nutshell, it is acknowledging God, really to be God and it demands gratitude as St. Paul says, “For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him… they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or fourfooted animals or reptiles” (Rom 1,21-23).
It is where many make mistakes: “loving the creation is loving God.” Definitely loving the creation can be a step towards loving God or can even be an expression of loving God, as John says, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or a sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1Jn 4,20). Work seems to be worship! This mentality is very commonly found in the Western culture influencing even the clerics and is spreading like virus among all.
Jesus summarized all the commandments of the Bible into two: love of God and love of neighbour. A lawyer asked Jesus, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22,36-40). Both these commandments are definitely interconnected and interdependent. But one cannot replace the other. There is a definite distinction, an abyss between these two worlds, Divine and human – Creator and creatures. The order must be kept: God above human beings and in human beings, spirit over reason and reason over feelings, emotions and body. Sin is the distortion of this order. Every sin breaks this order. Thus when God is acknowledged as God, one lives dependent on God, giving Him the due place – the first place – and loving others and using and safeguarding the nature and not loving the nature. Animals, plants, and other non-human creatures cannot be loved as human beings are to be loved.
3. God-confidence Vs Self-confidence:
Psychologists, formators, teachers, and media both print and electronic, promise us with techniques to improve self-confidence! It is like asking an infant to drive a bus full of people. Can s/he reach the passengers safe? Never, and it is foolish to let such a one do so! If so, how much more is it true of asking these people to improve our self-confidence. Strangely we, the clerics and teachers in the Church are part of that.
What is self-confidence? How strong, healthy, reliable, lasting is self-confidence? Self-confidence is not failure-proof. It can fail us in the most important moment of life! It would be like a rich merchant in search of a diamond for all his life and when he really found one he did not have enough resources to procure that! What a tragedy! It often takes place when some ignorant psychologists become spiritual directors.
Self-confidence is an expression of self-reliance and self-sufficiency: I have enough! There is another kind of it which can be more dangerous than the first: parent-confidence, sibling-confidence, friend-confidence, spouse-confidence, children-confidence, etc. It varies according to on whom one relies! This group of people fails to realize that no human being is God – stronghold, ever reliable, and almighty; rather they, in turn are dependent on God. They too are creatures, i.e., contingent beings depending on God for their very survival. How foolish it is to depend on dependent beings and not on the Independent, Infinite Being, God. It is good to remind ourselves of the Parable of the Foundations (sand and rock) (cf. Mt 7,24-27).
But, there is the most reliable confidence, and I would call it GOD-CONFIDENCE. It is most reliable, reasonable, life-giving, and rewarding. One of the best examples is the boy David courageously facing the giant Goliath. Goliath stands for self-confidence. He was depending on his physique, muscle power, sword, and other arms, whereas David was only God-dependent and so God-confident. He testified to this truth, saying, “"You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1Sam 17,45). These were not mere words, rather they speak volumes about his God-confidence that made him strong enough to defeat the Philistine champion with a height of six cubits and a span, wearing a helmet of bronze, armed with a coat of mail weighing five thousand shekels of bronze, wore greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders … (cf. 1Sam 17,4-10).
God in the Bible, always asked the Israelites to be God-confident, solely depending on Him for everything and not on their strength – self-confidence (cf. Josh 11; 1Sam 24,1-17; 1Chron 21,1-6). That is why He asked the army to be small for the enemies; thus the Israelites might depend on Yahweh and realize that it is not because of their might that they won but owing to Yahweh who fought for the army.
Jesus too taught the disciples to be God-dependent and God-confident (cf. Mt 6,25-34). St. Paul realized this truth very well that is why he exclaimed, “On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2Cor 12,5-10).
Let us imitate this servant of Christ and become one like him.