Sunday, January 21, 2018




Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s bidding.
Jonah 3:1-5,10

As we said in the Confiteor at the beginning of Mass, we can sin in two ways – by what we do and what we fail to do. We can sin by excessively over-inflating our worth, by thinking too highly of ourselves, but we can also sin by devaluating ourselves, by thinking too little of ourselves. I talked about some of these ideas at the Parish Mission I presented here in this Cathedral last Lent. 

Narcissism is the term used to describe excessive vanity and self-centeredness. The condition was named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He did not realize at first that it was his own reflection, but when he did, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone who did not exist outside himself.

Narcissistic personalities are characterized by unwarranted feelings of self-importance. They expect to be recognized as superior and special, without necessarily demonstrating superior accomplishments. They exhibit a sense of entitlement, demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behaviors and display a strong need for admiration. Bruce Barton said, “Conceit is God’s gift to little men.” Some believe their inflated self-importance has led to a disdain for those they feel are inferior, which might explain a rise in bullying and entitlement among the young.

When narcissistic people talk about church attendance, they usually say things like “I don’t go because I don’t get anything out of it!” “I, I, I!” When they say things like that they put themselves in the center of the picture. It’s all about them! Church attendance is really about giving, not getting. We go to Church to give God worship and praise! We go to learn to give and serve others!
When narcissistic people talk about marriage, they talk about what it will do for them. They are like the woman in the Guinness Book of Records with the most marriages. When she was asked about it, she said, “All I ever wanted was someone to love me!” No wonder she failed at it so many times. People who marry successfully get married to be love-givers, not love-getters! As Jesus said, “It is in giving that one receives!” Receiving is not a goal, but a by-product, of the marriage or ordination commitment. Narcissistic priests and marriage partners are always doomed to fail. For both priests and married partners, it is not about us, it is about those we are called to serve!

As I said last Sunday, when I was talking about our “calls,” or “vocations,” when narcissistic young people talk about what to do with their lives, they usually ask themselves “what do I want to do or what do I want to be” that will make me happy? The real question is not what do we want to do, but what is God calling me to do and be” that will lead me to happiness? Jesus was right, “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, while those who seek to give their lives away, will save them.” Albert Schweitzer was right when he said, and narcissistic people will never get it, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, and narcissistic people will never understand it, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

Pope Francis talks a lot about a “self-referential church,” in other words a narcissistic church. He says that when the Church does not look beyond itself, when it is always focused on itself, it gets sick. The Church is the moon and Christ is the sun. The Church exists to reflect the light of Christ to the world, not to live within herself, of herself and for herself.

The other extreme to narcissism is self-deprecation or the minimization and devaluation of oneself. Humility is about accepting the truth about who we are, without exaggerating it or minimizing it. “Humility” comes from the Latin “humus,” meaning “earth.” “Humility” means “grounded.” A truly “humble” person, truly in touch with his strengths and weaknesses, neither inflates his worth nor devalues it. Humility is ultimately about truth.

It is this truth that Jesus spent his ministry trying to teach. He taught it to the religious leaders of his day who were so arrogant and self-inflated that they started out talking about God and ended up thinking they were gods. He taught it to the marginalized of his day who were so beaten down that they did not recognize their own goodness and the image of God within themselves.

God has entrusted gifts to us to be used! When we do not use our gifts, even deny we have them, we neither serve God nor the people we are called to serve. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world, our light is not to be hidden, but shared with the world. When our light is shared, when our talents are invested, the credit is not to be absorbed by us as if we were the source of that light and those talents, but that credit is to be reflected back to God. Seeing our light and benefitting from our talents, people are to give God the glory and praise. There is great responsibility that goes with being the light of the world and having talents! It scares us. We tend to shy away from it.

In that arena, the prophet Jonah is a patron saint. Jonah was called to preach to the people of Nineveh. He considered himself a poor preacher on one hand and the Ninevites not worth saving on the other. To get away from his unwelcomed call, he went down to the docks and bought a ticket on the next ship sailing in the opposite direction from Nineveh. He thought he could outrun God!

In his version of a get-away-car, Jonah is pictured going to sleep in the bottom of his boat while a storm raged, a symbol today of “denial.” The psychologist Abraham Maslow calls such spiritual and emotional truancy the Jonah Complex: “The evasion of one’s own growth, the setting of low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self-crippling, pseudo-stupidity, mock humility.”

We are afraid of failure and success. A calling makes us wonder if we are good enough, smart enough, disciplined enough, educated enough, patient enough, and inspired enough. We manage our fear by “going to sleep,” “settling for too little” and “self-sabotage.”

The truth is this: all of us have answered “yes” in some areas and “no” in others. We both crave and fear becoming who we are called to be!

Thomas Merton was right, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” Maybe our biggest sin is not what we do, but what we fail to do! Michelangelo put it this way. “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

May you want to be who you are - who God called you to be! You are talented! Invest your talents! The world is not served by your playing small!

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