Selfies…selfies…selfies. Everywhere selfies. A momentary visit to any social media site will result in a bombardment of people’s pictures of themselves—often in ridiculous or compromising photos simply aimed at garnering a few (or a lot) of “likes”—a cultivation of egocentricity as never before.
It’s very dangerous, too, in many ways, and possibly not more so than in young people’s dependence on accumulating views/likes for a (false) feeling of self-worth, as if a gazillion anonymous views/likes really means anything worthwhile at all. Lots of articles refer to that dependence as leading to the rapid rise of teen suicide—especially—but not limited to—teen girls. Those who minister to families so stricken will tell you that these deaths are among the most distressing and difficult, for family members—regardless of what the deceased may have manifested—so often blame themselves.
We also see articles these days citing the decline in Christian church attendance and faith, not surprisingly alongside ever-increasing lawlessness and incivility in interpersonal relationships and dialogue. As the moral centering that faith provides wanes, restraints on immoral behavior are loosened and the “look after number 1”—regardless of the hurt to others—increasingly becomes the primal clarion call. As society grows in affluence, it forgets about searching for God, as even the Bible implies: “… give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with [just] the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” (Proverbs 30:8-9).
As focus on self-interest grows, it leaves much detritus in its wake. The divorce rate has been around fifty percent (more?), often the result of “irreconcilable differences” caused by selfishness of one or both spouses. Many churches and denominations are bleeding ministers, despite contracts, promises and even solemnly professed vows. Parents are abandoning their children to the more responsible older generations or even friends and strangers to rear. Not infrequently we hear excuses in such cases such as “I don’t want to miss out in life”, “I don’t want to be tied down,” or even “I just want to party!” (yes, really). One wonders how these, years and decades down the road and having abdicated even these morally binding natural and spiritual ties, will evaluate their motivations and actions in the future. Will they find solace in contemplating long-abandoned moral duties for fulfillment of selfish whims?
One of my favorite ordination gifts was a cross engraved with the phrase: “The Purpose of Life … Is a Life of Purpose”. But such a phrase demands that one ask oneself: What purpose do I want to live for? Will it be just for myself—wallowing in egocentric self-indulgence … or will I rather live a much more admirable life of generosity and kindness, seeking to edify those around me?
No doubt one can find proponents for either. But for most of us, the realization lay somewhere in-between; it is quite difficult to deny oneself totally for the good of others no matter how much we may admire those who do so. Selfishness comes a lot more easily… and, tragically, is a lot more prevalent.
Musing on such, the Christian is reminded of Jesus’ parable of the talents (measures) of gold that a master entrusts to three servants to invest (Matthew 25), entrusting to each according to his gifts and abilities. Two industrious servants invest and make good profit for the master, while the third hides his money are returns it—profitless—to the master upon the latter’s return, with the excuse: “I was afraid.”
A servant’s purpose and duty is to serve to the best of his ability, and each person is given something to invest for the good of others, and thus duty-bound to invest that gift for the Master’s purpose—that of leading others to goodness and holiness. Whether the “talents” given us are wealth or abilities, we are to use them ultimately for good—to teach, to serve, to give, to pray—to ultimately lead others to Christ. You don’t have to be a bishop or a genius or endowed with superhuman ability; even the person who cleans, makes copies or shuttles kids back and forth to school has a vital role to play. As St. Paul writes: “…there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; …varieties of service, but the same Lord; …varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
For example, St. André Bessette was a Holy Cross order brother in Canada. He could not handle academics, so they made him a porter—a doorman—of their monastery. As he liked to joke: “…my superiors showed me the door…and I stayed there forty years.” And yet, by his devotion to God, his charity, kindness and simple wisdom, he led thousands to Christ, and is known and beloved in Canada simply as “Brother André”.
So regardless of intelligence or wealth or fame, there is no life more worthy as one lived for others, or one so trivial as one spent seeking the benefit of oneself alone. We cannot “Love the Lord your God with all heart, mind, soul and strength, and neighbor as ourselves” by seeking only our own material good. Serving God and others is our duty, our mission, our command…indeed, our whole purpose—a purpose and reward.
So let us never doubt that blessings—the “talents”—given to each of us, and that we are given them for a higher purpose. We do not all have the fortitude, or even ability, to evangelize, teach, etc., but each has a way to benefit society, whether that be in material, active or spiritual support. As St. Augustine wrote: “Of whose possessions do you give, if not from [God’s]? If you were to give of your own, it would be largess; but since you give of His, it is restitution. ‘For what have you that you have not received?’ These are the sacrifices most pleasing to God: mercy, humility, praise, peace, charity.”
So…as Jesus tells us repeatedly: “Do not be afraid.” …not unlike the motto of the British SAS: “Who dares, wins!” The very act of working for good IS winning … for it is cooperation with God’s will and grace, and leads to eternal life. And there’s no bigger win than that.
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.