Friday, November 09, 2007

Despising oneself with love

Unfortunately today is simply one of those wherein everything seems to be blank, dull and mute. There is no song in my heart, no dreams in my mind. The body seems to go through its routine out of necessity rather than consciousness. However I can conjure up one thought.

Dom Scupoli in The Spiritual Combat makes despising oneself essential for spiritual progress. This principle is nothing new - except to the modernites who consider self-confidence the first principle. Yet in our twisted and confusing age, it is difficult to understand what it means to despise oneself. It is very easy to take it to mean, literally, self-hatred - that we are horrible sinners to such a degree that we must despise ourself. Yet this idea cannot be what Dom Scupoli and the many spiritual Fathers of our faith have in mind in their exhortation. For to hate ourselves, in very essence, would mean to despise one of God's creations. It would be similar to hating the beauty of another human being. Love is that which is eternal. All that God has made is good and therefore deserves to be loved at very least because it exists.

Guardini, in The Practice of Prayer, somewhere, makes the point that, in fact, to despise oneself in this manner does not mean to hate ourselves or to wallow in self-pity. It means, and Dom Scupoli does explain it, that we must realize that we can do nothing of our own selves. To despise ourselves requires the humility to really believe that apart from Christ we can do nothing but - and this is his second principle - with God all things are possible. We must despise our own ability to save ourselves (for left to ourselves, apart from grace, we have only sin) while having a tremendous confidence in God to save us. Both of these principles must be rooted in love - love of God and care for our own soul. It requires humility because it means we must acknowledge our weak state in truth. Ultimately it means salvation is of Christ, not of us.

The more we rely on our own ability to save our soul then the greater pride grows within us. Suddenly we no longer see our sinfulness, as we think of ourselves as accomplishing much in our own strength. Over time the sacrifice and work of Christ is lessened in the eyes of our mind and heart because we are striving on our own, hanging spiritual accomplishment plaques on the walls of our soul. Before we know it, we fall and are befuddled: "how could I fall?" Hence we hate ourselves: "I should have been better." No, dear soul, you did what a sinner can only do when his confidence is in his own strength. You fell.

In our modern, anthropocentric age, we're exhorted by many psychologists and self-help masters that we must have confidence in ourselves. Yes, we ought to believe in our capabilities that God has given to us. However when it comes to the spiritual life, these ideas fail. Confidence in our ability to save our soul is a farce because of the effects and consequences of the Fall. We need a Savior; we need our Redeemer.

Once we make Jesus Christ our entire love, our one goal - once we realize that He is the Strong Man Who saves the lost - then we can cling to Him as our strength. He saves us. That is how we understand the exhortation to despise self. We cannot hate our very being but we must realize our inability to save ourselves and God's great goodness and strength to accomplish our salvation as we cling to Him.

1 comment:

Princess Blue said...

We lack so much in this 'anthropocentric age" and Guardini seems a wise man to read in order to combat it. True humility is such a difficult thing to ever achieve. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. And many blessings to you, St. Basil, glad you conjured up the one thought :)