When Jesus invites us to die to ourselves, He is not referring to some pious act of self-sacrifice which will make us look or feel holy. No, He has something much more radical in mind. The kind of inner transformation Christ desires will literally rip the rug up from under our feet and shatter our world view. For the very brave, I suggest a quick method to facilitate this sanctifying process. Ask yourself, “Am I really Christ centred or do I live egocentrically, basically functioning psychologically the same as I did as an unbeliever?”
When a spiritual director posed a similar question to me, I was shocked. His query was a verbal slap across my face, snapping me out of a spiritual fog. After decades of thinking I had dedicated my entire life to God, I suddenly understood I was functioning day to day as if I was an unbeliever. My whole world paradigm was skewed because I did not live in reality at all. Even though I prayed, studied, and went to Mass, I was living in delusion with my ego still in charge, not God. Although God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent and at the heart of a unimaginably, immense universe, my actions meant I kept trying to steal His job.
Modern folk are stressed and anxious; we are not living how we were created to live but in a phony existence of our own creation. We are so wrapped up in our own thoughts, trying to control everything and everyone around us, even the most pious of us barely give God more time than a few prayers on the run. Even worse, city dwellers barely see a blade of grass during their normal work day. Surrounded by concrete and glass, man’s deepest self is starved for a connection with the rest of the natural world, other people, the communion of saints, and at an even deeper level, God Himself. Perhaps the underlying reason people are driven to go on picnics, hike, camp and go to cottages is that they are starving for a connection with the Creator.
But our holidays are only a brief respite. We live in isolated, man-made prisons which shut out other humans never mind other living creatures and God. Each person is the focal point of their little artificial universe. This means each of us has assumed the role of king or queen of our tiny kingdoms with everything depending on us.
I was never designed to live alone like an island unto myself. Yet, in my pride, I cling tenaciously to my throne and crown. Only when I was completely depleted and shattered, only then did I resign and give God back His job. Only then did I surrender an ego centric point of view and embraced reality which is that God is the hub of the universe and I am simply part of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Definitely absurd but I only saw this fact after I surrendered and let go of control. I cannot find what is really important in life in self-created delusions but I can discover the truth as I learn to live in harmony with a bigger universe than the one I had created.
I was shocked to understand just how much inner transformation it takes to finally see straight. Perhaps the only people who are not living in delusion are those who can say with St. Paul,
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Until we allow our false selves, our egos, to die, we view the world narrowly through our own eyes with events and other people revolving around ourselves. Only surrendering our false selves to Christ on the cross can free us from a prison of selfish isolation and plug us into the Mystical Body of Christ. Then we are free to simply be children of God as we gather with others to worship Christ. As St. Francis said, “I am who I am before God, nothing else.” People we call saints are simply normal Christians who live in the truth.
Christ is Our Life
Christ doesn’t fit into our lives. According to St. Paul, Christ wants to be my life!
“When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4)
To understand the difference between someone who is still egocentric and someone who lives in truth, consider this example of two men who are contemplating a beautiful sunrise. There is a world of difference between a man who is aware of himself, sitting on a hill and looking at a beautiful sunrise, focusing his attention on the Creator and a man so enthralled with that very same sunrise that he forgets himself, loses himself and becomes absorbed in the scene, in God the Father. In the first instance, the man is egocentric even though he is trying to focus on praising God; he is rooted in self, still at the center of his world.
When my eyes are not on myself, I experience joy and a sense of connection because I am simply part of the whole of creation. Everything does not depend on me. I am free to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature and the Spirit of God which permeates all when I am in the right place in the scheme of things and I give up my grand delusions of grandeur. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. John Eudes, Tract. de admirabili corde Jesu,
CCC 1698 I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus Christ is your true head, and that you are one of his members. He belongs to you as the head belongs to its members; all that is his is yours: his spirit, his heart, his body and soul, and all his faculties. You must make use of all these as of your own, to serve, praise, love, and glorify God. You belong to him, as members belong to their head. And so he longs for you to use all that is in you, as if it were his own, for the service and glory of the Father.
Christ Wants to Shatter Our Delusions
I am living in a fantasy when I view life as it circles around me. As believers, we sing and recite prayers that proclaim that God is the centre of all but our psychological makeup screams the exact opposite. I view people, events, history and yes even God through my eyes, judging what is right, trusting my thoughts and my feelings as the final judge of what is real. But, the truth is, I do not belong to myself:
In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’ Abraham Kuyper
St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Crux), who lived in the 16th century explains the inner process of becoming one with Christ in a series of seven poems. A Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State describes the peaceful sense of rest which comes after St. John has died to his false self:
I lose myself and remain,
With my face on the Beloved inclined;
All has come to rest,
I abandon all my cares
There, among the lilies, to die.
True peace will come as I learn to live the way I was created to live- in, with and through the Love of Christ. All my suffering and pain is rooted in my refusal to let go of control and let my ego die. It takes decades to realize we have clung to a ridiculous denial of reality based on a fear of surrendering to Love. Too bad it takes years of God’s light shining on us and healing us before we discover that living a holy life simply means living in freedom and joy as a beloved child of God, nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps God is as kind as He is patient.