Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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I have found the needle in the haystack! The needle in the haystack is: SELF…my self, your self, his self. Should we love self or hate self? Should we forget self or affirm self? Should we be selfish or unselfish? The answer to those questions will determine our lives and our spirituality.

Self started out as zero, zip, nada. Self is not necessary; it is contingent, it didn’t have to be. I did not ask to be. I did nothing to get here. God, who is love, loved self into existence. Self is an act of love of God therefore self is loveable. So how can I hate self? Self is a gift of God. What gross ingratitude it would be to refuse this gift of God. Self is unique, gifted, graced and indispensable. What a lie it would be to deny this!

When God creates something out of nothing He must continually preserve it in existence. Self is created not was created. Stand in front of a mirror and you create your image; walk away and the image is gone. God is the ground of my being. Without God I do not exist. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Therefore, I am “we.” And “we” is mostly Thee. Think of a sponge in a lake. The sponge is upheld by the lake, every fiber of the sponge is interpenetrated by the lake. The sponge is not the lake and the lake is not the sponge. That is how God is in me. I am not God and God is not me.

I am commanded to love God with my whole being. Self is the only means I have to love God. And you want me to lose self? Self is the norm for the love of neighbor. How can I love my neighbor if I do not love myself? To be selfish means to want the best for your self. The best is God. You want me not to want God? The Creed begins with “I believe…” If I do not accept and love myself I do not accept and love the Creed, as I pretend to do. Self preservation is the first law of human nature. You want me to be inhuman?

Jesus often exhorted his disciples to work for a reward. “Lay up treasures in heaven where neither rust nor moth consume.” “A cup of cold water given in my name will not go without its reward.” “When you pray, go into your room and pray in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” “And when you fast, wash your face and anoint your hair, and your Father who sees will reward you.” “When you give an alms do it in secret and your Father will reward you.” “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.” You want me to be unselfish? How unchristian!

To be a Christian is to be a “man for others.” But I cannot be a “man for others” unless I am first a “man for myself.” I am not just a conduit of love for the neighbor. I am important. God loves me for myself. All of God’s gifts are for all. But the gift is primarily for the recipient and secondarily for others. Think of a wash basin. Turn the faucet on and all the water is going down through the drain. The basin is empty. Now put a stopper in the basin and the same amount of water will be flowing over the basin as was flowing through the drain. But now the basin (self) is always full.

“You’re nobody ‘till somebody loves you,” are the lyrics of an old song. The same is true in the spiritual life. In order for a person to grow into a spiritually mature Christian, it is necessary that he realize and experience the unconditional love of God. The conviction and the experience that God loves him unconditionally, in spite of everything, will enable him to accept himself as loveable and valuable, and go on to love God with his whole strength, and love the neighbor as himself. And that is what Christianity, and life is all about.

Man must lovingly accept the truth of his being. For the moment we shall call this attitude “love of self.” Here we might glimpse the deep and positive significance of an attitude whose ethical and religious scope is usually overlooked and underrated, even when we use the eyes of faith. Understood correctly, man’s love for himself, his “yes” to his self, may be regarded as the “categorical imperative” of the Christian faith: You shall lovingly accept the humanity entrusted to you! You shall be obedient to your destiny! You shall not continually try to escape it! You shall be true to yourself! You shall embrace yourself!

Man’s self-acceptance is the basis of the Christian Creed. Assent to God starts in man’s sincere assent to himself, just as sinful flight from God starts in man’s flight from himself. In accepting the chalice of his existence, man shows his obedience to the will of his Father in heaven. (Matt. 26:39-42) In rejecting it he rejects God. Knowing the temptation which humanity itself is, knowing how readily man tries to escape the harsh distress of the human situation, knowing how difficult it is for him to bear with himself and how quickly he feels betrayed by himself, knowing how difficult it is for man not to hate himself, we can then understand why God had to prescribe “self love” as a virtue and one of the "great commandments.” (Poverty of Spirit, Johannes B. Metz)

All that I am, all that I will ever be, is a spinoff from the reality that God loves me. My response to God is a spinoff from my realization of the reality that God loves me. So I accept myself, love myself, affirm myself and celebrate my self because in so doing I am accepting, loving, affirming and celebrating God. To be a Christian means to believe in God’s unconditional love for me, to bet my life on it, and to spread the realization of it to others.

“The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” (Iraneus)


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