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  • Sunday ,19 December 2010

Wrong self-love is a hindrance to virtue


Pope Shenouda Article


Sunday ,19 December 2010

Wrong self-love is a hindrance to virtue

    It is not a fault or a sin to love oneself, if it is spiritual love. It is the first and greatest commandment, or the highest level of love for the others, as the Lord says:"You shall the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mt 22: 37- 39)

   Concerning wrong love the Lord says, "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Mt 10: 39) To discern between the two types of love, we should know that by the ego war or self-worship, the focus is on oneself, to build one's career and attain higher levels, through wrong means, such as:
   Love of the flesh:
   This the apostle describes as, "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." (1 Jn 2: 16) These are part of the love of the world, which is passing away and the lust of it.
   It is the love of pleasure, fun, and luxury.  
   It is sensual pleasure that leads to lust and sin. Solomon the Wise experienced such love and said, "Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them;" "I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards … I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men … So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem." (Eccl 2: 4- 10)
   Did such pleasures benefit or destroy Solomon: 
   They did not benefit him; for he found all the work that his hands had done was vanity and grasping for the wind, and there was no profit under the sun (Eccl 2: 11). Such pleasures destroyed Solomon, for "When Solomon was old … his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David." (1 Kgs 11: 4) He underwent hard punishment and the Lord torn out the kingdom from his hand.
   The foolish rich man is an example:
   He wanted to build himself financially by acquiring more wealth and worldly pleasures. He said, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry'", but the Lord said to him, "You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" (Lk 12: 16- 20)
   Love that leads to the lust of the flesh and the world is not true or sound self-love, because it is realized by pleasure and enjoyment. That is why the Lord said that he who loves himself will lose it.
   Another type of wrong love is imaginary love:
   A person who finds that pleasure is unattainable for him, may indulge in thoughts and imagination that may realize it! He finds pleasure in daydreams, and may even tell stories about non-existing pleasures. He may indulge for hours or even for days in such thoughts, and finally awakes to find that he has wasted his time!
   Those in need sometimes seek inner thoughts to compensate for their need instead of doing something positive, like a student, instead of studying, sits imagining that he has succeeded with distinction, graduated from the best university, and got a high position! Then he awakes to find that he has wasted his time. He lost his life while thinking that he has found it.
   Imaginary pleasure may be stronger than sensual pleasures.   
   Imagination is so extensive that it may depict images that cannot be realized in actual life, giving delusive happiness. Insane people live such imaginary pleasures imagining themselves in positions and ranks that satisfy them, and they believe such images. It is a kind of Paranoia.
   Some think by exaltation they build themselves:
   A person of this type finds himself in greatness, according to the worldly measures. Therefore, we should remember that the first being who fell in this wrong self-love was:
   Satan said in his heart, "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God … I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High," (Isa 14: 13, 14) but he fell into the pit, and his end will be much worse than his fall (Rev 20: 10). He lost everything, while thinking he had found himself in greatness! Our first parents fell in the same way when Satan said to them in the garden, "Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3: 5)
   The same applies to those of Babel who wanted to build for themselves a city and a tower with the top in heavens, lest they be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth (Gen 11: 4), but the Lord confused their language and scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. They did not build the city, nor the tower.
   True greatness can be attained by humbleness, as the Lord says, "Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Mt 23: 12)
   On the other hand, a person who seeks to attain worldly greatness will face wars and competitions that may destroy him, and even if such greatness is attained on the earth, a person will be lost in heaven.
   A prominent example is Absalom, King David's son:
   In his wrong self-love he rebelled against his father, offended him badly, and fought him to have the throne and be a king in his place! But he lost everything and died in the war in his rebellion and sin. He lost both earth and heaven.
   The wars of greatness have actually destroyed many.
   Some people, not attaining worldly greatness, seek to attain it by vain glory, by rejoicing at praise, or even by praising themselves and speaking about their own virtues and great works to receive glory from the others. St. John the Baptist was the opposite; he hid himself so that Christ may appear, and was keen on giving glory to his Lord Christ, saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn 3: 30) By such humbleness, he was exalted and deserved the words of the Lord, "Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist." (Mt 11: 11)
How beautiful are the words in the Holy Mass: 
[You who dwell in the highest and have compassion on the humble ...]
   Objection and wrestling are types of wrong self-love, which some think are means of building themselves, whereas they actually destroying.
   Some people are like fire flames in thinking, moving, or fighting. They cannot do positive work, but find themselves in destroying those who build. Nothing pleases them; they criticize everything, as if they know what the others do not, but while they destroy the work of the others, they build nothing!
   Their whole life is wrestling, thinking it a kind of heroism!
   Thinking themselves heroes, they rejoice and take pride in attacking prominent figures. They think it courage to face the defective with his defect! The lust of their hearts may be to pull out the eyes of a person, then disdain him for blindness! They have a fiery nature and the desire to rise high over the skulls of the others. This fills them with joy, but God is not pleased with them because their hearts are void of love. In their wrestling, they get lost. While thinking they have found themselves, they discover that they destroyed themselves, like a naughty child who finds his pleasure in annoying the teachers, thinking it a kind of courage, daring, power, or heroism by which he may build that self which he wrongly loves. Strange enough, this type while destroying the others, proudly say, 'I am a fighter!' They ought to know that destroying is easier than building, as the saying goes, 'A well dug by a wise person in one year, the foolish may fill up in one day!'
   Freedom is another means by which some people think they exalt themselves: 
   In the west, for instance, teenagers think that no one has authority over them, not even parents at home or teachers. They see freedom in doing whatever they want with no restrictions, neither of principles, values, or traditions. Existentialists, to enjoy freedom, want to rid themselves of all restrictions, of God, and of His commandments, as if they say, 'It is better that God does not exist, that we may exist!'
   Such people think of outer freedom, not freedom of the heart from sinful desires.
   They ought to free themselves from sins, wrongdoings, and corrupt habits, which the Lord meant when saying, "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (Jn 8: 36)
   The Lost Son destroyed himself when he thought he could find himself by leaving his father's house (Lk 15)! The same applies to those who think their freedom lies in addiction, corruption, leniency, or indifference, or in getting out of the fortress which protects them to the wide space, for their destruction!
   In spiritual life, some would think that freedom means getting rid of the restrictions of the spiritual guidance. So they do not seek the counsel of the spiritual father except in matters they are sure he would approve, otherwise they would walk their own way or seek another father confessor.
   Misuse of freedom may lead some to atheism, or more dangerous, to spreading their own views and interpretation of the Holy Scripture as doctrines!
   That is why there exist different churches and different contradicting denominations, with the consequence that heresies appeared and special views and interpretations appears as those of Jehovah Witnesses and others.
   Such people think they have more knowledge than others. It is the war of knowledge, which the ego may face:
   Of such knowledge the Scripture says, "Knowledge puffs up" (1 Cor 8: 1). People of this type want to be leaders bringing new views that distinguish them. Of this type are the heretics who invent new ideas contrary to the general teaching, to appear distinguished by their own doctrines and thoughts, and not subject to the church in their teaching.
   Those who have self-admiration are righteous and wise in their own eyes. It is a kind of self-worship, by which they see that everybody else is wrong, and they alone are right! They justify themselves regarding everything and every fault, not accepting any blame, seeing it unfair. They do not look to the guilt they commit, but cry out loud against the punishment as being cruel.
   One's spiritual, ethical, and mental measures in this way will be confused and one will be lost.
   Some people praise themselves and like to hear praise from the others, and get offended if someone else is praised, as happened to Cain when God accepted the offering of his brother Abel! Although most of those who fall in self-admiration are endowed with talents, they misuse them for their own harm!
   Some people are very active and involved in various activities, which sometimes have no depth, but they think they build themselves by such activities. A person of this type considers himself like a machine that never stops in the age of technology. He is a member of many organizations, and does many things, not allowing himself any time for prayer, reading, meditation, nor caring about his spirituality. He has no depth, but mere activities, while the Scripture says, "The royal daughter is all glorious within." (Ps 45) Such activities turn into a goal and lead a person away from the main goal: salvation of his own soul.
   Glory and fame may be the means of self-love:
   Laying all focus on such matters comes under "pride of life", by which a person is pleased with titles, positions, and wealth. With every new title a person thinks that he has attained the utmost glory, while true happiness is in building the self from within even though it may not have clothing woven with gold outside (Ps 45).
   Glory is not to be great in the sight of the others, but to be great in the sight of God, as was John the Baptist (Lk 1: 15)
   True and sound self-love:
   If you really love yourself, edify it from within, by attaching it to God and to the others. This can be realized through denying oneself so that God may appear in all one's works and others likewise, and through crucifying oneself so that God may abide within. Say with the Apostle, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2: 20) Crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5: 24). Overcome yourself, so that you may abide in God who always leads us in triumph in Christ (2 Cor 2: 14). This is the true self-love that edifies, not worldly matters of greatness, fame, pleasure, enjoyment, and wrong freedom.
  One should find oneself in God, not in the world, the present world, but in eternity. Build yourself with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 22, 23) that will appear in your life. Be a branch abiding in the true Vine and yielding fruit and the Lord prunes from the lusts and desires destroying the self, that it may bear more fruit (Jn 15: 1, 2). You ought to hate the self so that you may abide in God, as the Lord says, "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (Jn 12: 25) Hatred here means resisting one's desires, disciplining the self, and subjecting it, that it may be cleansed of all filthiness. This is the true self-love.