03 April 2012

Loving Yourself . . . . Too Much

- Fr. Eric Flood, F.S.S.P.
North American District Superior

Lent is an annual reminder of directing our love towards the things of Heaven instead of the things of earth. “For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Mt. 6:21). If our heart unconditionally loves God above all things as He deserves, we will consequently love ourselves, others, and the things of earth with respect to the love we have for God.

When God’s goodness and His perfections are acknowledged, we should stand in awe that our Creator lavishes His generosity on us, treating each of us as a great treasure and looking upon us as His children. Unfortunately, the goodness of God can also be taken for granted, especially if inordinate self-love inflates one’s perception of self.

Such pride produces the thought that God owes a multitude of Divine benefits, and views the things of the earth in relationship to self instead of their primary relationship to God. A person with such a skewed perspective may reason that the goods of the earth – even including other people – should be at his service and disposal, providing him with a comfortable life, without referring those things to his final end, life with God in Heaven.

This inordinate love of creatures inevitably reinforces a corresponding inordinate love of self, so that instead loving oneself as Christ commands, the love for self redounds on itself and the person “falls in love” with himself.

If the self-centered love is not soon redirected towards God, the person can daily fall deeper and deeper in love with himself, thinking himself to be the greatest good to be pursued in this life, wanting to be pampered, avoiding hardships, and becoming weary in mind with the little thorns of life. Even God is viewed in terms of a Person who gives things. And when things do not go his way or when the desires of the body cry out for attention, the already divided heart will be more motivated  to do things out of love for self than for the love of God.

Self-centered love also makes it difficult to show charity in external way, since one of its effects is the continual drawing of the person inwardly. He may want to love others in his actions and words, but they end up being reflexive and understood more in terms of “What’s in it for me?”

Hence, Lent is a time to examine if our love remains directed toward God above all things, and has not become inordinately directed toward self or the things of the world. During this time, mortifications are prescribed and provide a remedy for misplaced love, as the denial of licit pleasures restrains self-gratification.

Once a person’s inordinate self-love is thwarted, he can better direct his love toward others, especially toward God. For love is expressed outwardly, as witnessed also in God’s benevolence towards us. God, Who is love, did not keep His love bottled up inside: The immense sea of Divine bounty was expressed in the creation of the heavens and earth – the entire universe reflecting His love and goodness.

But God did not stop there. Wanting to illustrate further His unconditional and infinite love for us, He sent His very Son into the world. The God-man, presenting the perfect human nature in everything He did, expects our imitation.

His forty days in the desert, then, shows the benefits of living a mortified life to assist in directing one’s whole mind, body, and soul toward the love of God (Mt. 22:37). For at the very root of our Lenten practices must lie the desire to fall more deeply in love with God, which inevitably shatters whatever inordinate love we may have for ourselves.

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