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Loving and losing oneself

On the Lords words: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me (Mk 8:34).What the Lord commands seems hard and burdensome: that anyone who wishes to follow him must deny himself. But what he commands is not hard or burdensome because he helps us so that what he commands may be done. For what is said in the Psalm is true: Because of the words of Your lips I have kept hard ways (Ps 16:4), as also is true what Christ himself said: My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt 11:30). For whatever is hard in his commandments, charity makes easy. We know what great things love itself can do. Very often this love is even abominable and impure; but how great hardships people have suffered, what indignities and intolerable things they have endured, to attain to the object of their lovewhether it be a lover of money who is called greedy; or a lover of honor, who is called ambitious; or a lover of beautiful bodies, who is called voluptuous. And who could number all the kinds of loves? Yet consider what labor all lovers undertake, not thinking that they are laboring, feeling that they are laboring only when hindered from labor. Most people are what their loves are, and their greatest concern in living their lives ought to be choosing what they are to love. Why are you surprised, therefore, that anyone who loves Christ and wishes to follow Christ denies himself out of love for him. If by loving himself, a person is lost, surely he is found by denying himself.Love of himself was mans first destruction.

If he had not loved himself, if he had preferred God to himself, he would have been willing always to be subject to God and would not have been turned aside and neglected Gods will and done his own will. To love one's self is to want to do one's own will. Prefer God's will; learn to love yourself by not loving yourself. That you may know that it is a vice to love one's self, the Apostle says, For men shall be lovers of their own selves. Can one who loves himself have any sure trust in himself? No, because he begins to love himself by forsaking God and is driven away from himself to love things outside himself, to such a degree that when the same Apostle had said, Men shall be lovers of their own selves, he added immediately, lovers of money (2 Tim 3:2). Already you see that you are outside. You have begun to love yourself: stay inside yourself if you can. Why are you going outside your self? Made rich by money, have you become a lover of money? Youve begun to love whats outside you; youve lost yourself. ...What is said of the son in that parable (Lk 15:12-18)? And when he returned to himself. If he returned to himself, he must have gone away from himself. Because he had fallen from himself, had gone away from himself, he first returns to himself so that he may return to that state from which he fell by falling from himself. By falling away from himself, he remained in himself; by returning to himself, he must not remain in himself, lest he again go away from himself. Returning then to himself, so that he would not remain in himself, what did he say? I will arise and go to my father. See, when he fell away from himself, he fell away from his father; he had fallen away from himself, he had gone away from himself to things outside himself. He returns to himself and goes to his father, where he may preserve himself in all security. If then he had gone away from himself, let him also return to himself from whom he had gone away, and let him, so that he may go to his Father, deny himself. What is deny himself? Let him not trust in himself, let him recognize that he is a man, and respect the words of the prophet, Cursed is every one that puts his hope in man (Jer 17:5). Let him withdraw himself from himself, but not towards things below. Let him withdraw himself from himself, that he may cling to God. Whatever good he has, let him attribute to Him by whom he was made; whatever evil he has, he has made it for himself. The evil that is in him God did not make; let him destroy what he has done, who by that was undone. Let him deny himself, Jesus says, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Augustine Sermon 96, 1-2; PL 38, 584-585)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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RE: "Love of himself was mans first destruction...To love ones self is to want to do ones own will. Prefer Gods will; learn to love yourself by not loving yourself. That you may know that it is a vice to love ones self..."The uses of language/meaning are various indeed. I understand about basing our lives on God, but withdraw a bit from the idea that self is necessarily bad, bad, bad! (I see Dana Carvey in my imagination.)Some interpretations of the word, self or perhaps Self, are less condemnatory, yes? I've been meaning to write for years on "Self-Love: The Forgotten Commandment" or the second commandment. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, implying a love of self that is positive. But I wonder if most people do indeed love themselves. So much self-talk is damning. Love means care for, cherish, nourish, sacrifice for, doing what is for the good of the object of one's love. Under that sense, self-love is not self-indulgent or self-destructive. Since God is at the heart of every person, loving God is also loving the Spirit within myself. If I love myself truly, I live in accord with God's will.Nitpicking perhaps, but I just wanted to offer another accent about love of self. Certainly we can love things, make idols of practically anything or anyone, including our own self-destructive desires, but that is a perversion of the true self, whose center is God. My definition of self includes God/Spirit at its core.From the non-theologian, non-philosopher...somewhat warily.

"Whatever good he has, let him attribute to Him by whom he was made; whatever evil he has, he has made it for himself."I believe that people are the way they are largely through a combination of genetics and life's experiences. I'm having a hard time with the concept of free will -- with the implication that free will is an absolute, i.e. that everyone has 100% free will. Do people really make 100% of their own evil? If so, why should they get no credit at all for 100% of their own good? This troubles me, because it takes away the sense of achievement when one is able to defeat evil and do the right thing. When we fail to do the right thing, is it only because we didn't pray enough, so that God didn't deliver us from ourselves? Is that all it is? What about free will? Does free will only apply in a negative sense, i.e. we choose evil over good? If we choose good over evil, is this not also free will and does this then not arise from within ourselves?I prefer to think of the defeat of evil as a team effort, between me and God. And, rather than thinking that I am 100% responsible for every bit of my own evil, I prefer to think of it in terms of me having had certain advantages in life (genetic and experience) and certain disadvantages (genetic and experience). Now, I can't use the latter as an excuse, but I can recognize that these disadvantages are real and must be recognized and defeated and that this goes along with whatever degree of intrinsic evil I may possess. When I actually do defeat evil and do the right thing, I don't think it's a sin of pride to feel just a little bit of self-satisfaction in having done this, along with thanking God for His help. I don't want to think that all of my little such victories are simply random events, dependent on God's mercies.- Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Claire -- I was glad to see that Pope Francis in one of his sermons referred to "love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self".Larry -- So far as I know, the Church has followed Aquinas' teaching about free will. For Aquinas willing is rarely simple. True, in Heaven we will have no choice but to love God because His goodness so overwhelms us, and there are even some times in this life when something is perceived so strongly as a good and we are impelled by feeling so strongly that we have no choice but to go for what we are perceiving as good. For instance, he held that if a man found his wife in flagrante with another man and automatically went into a rage, and he could only perceive one good (eliminating the man), and he might automatically kill him.I was taught that free will is not absolute, and when temptations are strong the temptations sometimes mitigate responsibility because they cause to lose some of our freedom. But who knows what other religion teachers have taught. In my experience the Manicheean mind-set is very strong in some people.

P. S. I also think that Augustine never quite rid himself of all of his Manicheanism. His view of human nature is somewhat too dark.

This particular sermon makes a lot of sense to me. The notion of going away from yourself refers to finding your identity in those kinds of ego attachments that ultimately lead to ego destruction. I recall listening to Tiger Woods after he had a period of meditation and recollection following his problems with fidelity. Almost to a word, he described what Augustine is saying (and this was as a result of Buddhist meditation!). He said that rather than trying to find fulfillment in himself, he went out of himself. He was insecure (or words to that effect). It wasn't so much that he was a slave to lust or that these temptations were just too alluring. He did not have spiritual and moral possession of himself and he was attaching his sense of self to these external things outside of himself. It was more like an addiction. As I read this account, I cannot help but seeing the psychological pattern of addiction (whatever that addiction is) being described in theological language. This idea of retuning to yourself and finding identification, not in ego attachments and pleasures (sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc,) but instead in handing over your identity to the Creator is necessary for moral maturity.

Although, this ad was criticized, Tiger's father, in this ad, reminds me of the father in story of the prodigal son and is a great model of fatherhood, actual or spiritual!

St. Augustine was aware that there is such a thing as a proper self-love; he had heard about the commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." But, of course, he doesn't have to say everything in every sermon, or every paragraph. In fact, in this homily, he stresses that before the prodigal son could return to his father, he had to return to himself, come back from all those external things in which he had lost himself. And that return to self surely is a kind of self-love.

George D. ==Buddhism is often faulted in the West for its lack of any justification for its moral system. (At times Buddha says there is no right and wrong.) But its ethics is noble indeed. I suspect that is due to some of the mental practices which give one an acute sense of one's failings and imperfections. We Christians could profit from them.

It was 1960-61 when I was 11 years old, living in a Catholic boy's boarding school, feeling abandoned by my family and God. As much as I wanted to earn the love of God and the love of all authority figures, and my abusive mother, this teaching of Jesus to deny oneself, pick up one's cross, and follow him, was a stumbling block for me. I thought it meant following him to death on Calvary, to martyrdom. Forty-five years later I came across this meditation to help survivors of abuse who have developed PTSD. "I know that my heart is large enough to hold my suffering and transform it." This transformed my understanding of the verse from Mark. my heart is large enough to hold my suffering = pick up your cross. and transform it = follow me.follow me in seeking first the kingdom of God, which is among us. Not pie-in-the-sky eschatology but the verses from the Our Father: "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Embracing my suffering, e.g. picking up my cross, may reveal my way for following Jesus not to martyrdom first but in helping others who have lost faith in God because of abuse and trauma.It turns out my insight is not uncommon. Contemporary writers that share a similar insight include Victor Frankel, Harold Kushner, and Elizabeth O'Connor.But discovering it for myself in the context of my life has given meaning to my suffering. Following this path does not feel like a burden. It is good news.

John L. --Back in the 30's we were taught in grammar school that we should be prepared to accept martyrdom. I think that gave me a very warped notion of what God asks of most of us. I suspect that He knows most of us would never be strong enough to choose to be eaten by lions, and so He doesn't ask that of us. Something was wrong with that teaching somehow.I'm glad you've gotten past what you were taught :-)

Thank you, Ann.Deo gratias. The divine assistance.

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