Sunday, October 23, 2011

To Love Yourself is to Desire to Become the Best Possible Version of Yourself.

Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 23, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 22: 34-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2011]

Self-love is not a bad thing.

At least, the Christian version of self-love isn’t a bad thing.

It can’t be, because Jesus explicitly tells us in Scripture—in this gospel passage we just heard from Matthew 22—that we are to love other people as we love ourselves.

So obviously we won’t be able to love others properly—that is to say, in the way that Jesus wants us to—unless we first love ourselves in the way that Jesus wants us to!

A healthy self-love is a prerequisite, a precondition, for a healthy love of neighbor.

That’s not Fr. Ray’s idea; it’s Jesus’ idea.

Which means that we’d better take it seriously!

Now when most people think of loving themselves they probably think of the worldly version of the phenomenon—which is why they think it’s incompatible with Christianity.

The worldly version of self-love includes things like selfishness, self-centeredness, arrogance and pride—all of which ARE incompatible with being a true disciple of Jesus.

Are you familiar with the character, Sheldon Cooper, on that show The Big Bang Theory?  Because he’s a genius, Sheldon thinks that he’s better than everyone else—a ‘more highly evolved’ human being, as he likes to put it.

He’s a great example of someone who’s filled with the worldly version of self-love.

Now that makes for some good television comedy—but it’s awful when you have to deal with somebody like Sheldon in real life!

So what is true, Christian self-love?  What exactly does it involve?  Well, to use an expression that you find quite often in Matthew Kelly’s books, to love yourself means to have the desire to become the best possible version of yourself.

To love yourself is to desire to become the best possible version of yourself.

That’s the ultimate goal of true, Christian self-love.

Now let’s be clear about it, the best possible versions of you and me do not include sin—any sin at all!  That’s a crucial point that needs to be mentioned here—which means that selfish, self-centered, arrogant, prideful people like Sheldon Cooper really don’t love themselves!  They’re “full of themselves,” so to speak, but they do not have true, Christian self-love.

Neither do people, for example, who live with their intended spouses before marriage!  I think of this whenever I meet with an engaged couple that’s living together and sexually active (which happens quite often, unfortunately!).  I’m sure they don’t realize it, but they really don’t love themselves (if they did they wouldn’t endanger their own salvation by having relations outside of marriage); nor do they really love the person they intend to marry (if they did, they’d never put that person’s salvation in jeopardy either!).

But it does illustrate Jesus’ point, does it not?  He links love of self with love of neighbor, implying that the quality of our self-love will directly influence the quality of our love for other people.

Let me conclude my homily today by sharing with you a little reflection that’s often attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa, although in my research I discovered that it was actually written by a man named Kent Keith.  But Mother Teresa obviously approved of it, because she allowed it to be hung on a wall in her home for children in Calcutta.  Someone sent me this reflection a couple of months ago.  On the surface, it might not seem to be about Christian self-love, but I assure you it is.  I’ll talk about the connection after I read it.

It begins . . .

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

So what’s the connection between this reflection and the idea of loving yourself in the true, Christian sense?

Simple.  The reflection, first of all, talks about forgiveness.  To be the best version of yourself (which, as I said earlier, is the goal of truly loving yourself), you must forgive others. 

The reflection talks about kindness.  To be the best version of yourself, you must be kind.

The reflection talks about success.  I’m sure Mother Teresa would say that this is not about being successful in the eyes of the world.  Rather, it’s about being successful in the eyes of God—which is simply another way of talking about being the best possible version of yourself.

The reflection talks about honesty.  Obviously you can’t be the best possible version of yourself if you’re deceitful.

The reflection talks about being creative—in the sense of using the gifts God has given you for the building up of his kingdom here on earth.  Being creative in this way is definitely part of what it means to be the best possible version of yourself.

The serenity and happiness mentioned here come from being right with God and neighbor.  That’s what Mother Teresa would certainly say.  Once again, these are qualities of those who are sincerely striving to be the best versions of themselves.

And, finally, the reflection speaks about doing good and giving your very best.  Here again we encounter the connection between loving ourselves properly and loving our brothers and sisters.  Those who are striving to be the best versions of themselves don’t focus on themselves (as ironic as that might sound!); rather, they focus on the needs of their brothers and sisters.  They do good and give their best effort—in loving service.

To love yourself is to desire to become the best possible version of yourself.  That’s the line to remember.

Or, to put it another way, to love yourself is to have the desire to become a saint!

Since Blessed Mother Teresa liked this reflection I just shared, I think it’s fitting that I end my homily today by seeking her intercession for all of us:  Blessed Mother Teresa, from your exalted place in God’s heavenly kingdom, pray for us.  Pray for us today and every day.  Pray that we will have this kind of self-love (and not the worldly version) in our hearts always, so that we will be able to love our brothers and sisters in the way that Jesus wants us to love them, in the way that you loved others during your time on this earth; because, as Jesus indicated in today’s gospel reading, we will only be able to love our brothers and sisters properly if we first love ourselves properly.  Amen.