In the apologetics class that I teach, we have been working our way through the book of Genesis. One of the themes that arises in the beginning of the book is “making a name for ourselves” versus seeking to glorify the name of God. This has been a theme constantly on my mind for a number of years. I first began to reflect on boasting of the name of God when I was watching the Chronicles of Narnia. One of the interesting themes we find within this story line is Aslan who is an obvious “Christ-figure” as intended by the Author, C. S. Lewis.
Within the series we discover that every time the soldiers, who defend Narnia, go to battle, they make the mistake of defending “Narnia” while leaving the name of Aslan out of their cheer. Unwittingly, each time they do this, they lose the battle. It isn’t until they experience a conversion that admits the battle is truly being fought for Aslan, and then Narnia, that they actually defeat their enemies. It was subtle in the movie, but this very reference has its roots all over scripture.
Gideon, is a man who struggles to trust God. His reasoning and fickle spirit seems to cast doubt on God’s promise and power. As a result, Gideon asks God for sign after sign. God obliges out of patience. God reduces the Army of Israel to such a pitiful number of soldiers, and scripture explains that this is done so that Israel would not boast of itself. Rather, Israel cannot boast of their own strength or ingenuity, but can only boast of God who makes the most foolish (in the eyes of the world) become the most powerful. This small army accomplishes its task, despite what human-wisdom would have otherwise suggested. God takes what is weak in the world and uses them to overthrow the powerful and arrogant. That is God’s style, for He does not wish that we ever trust in ourselves.
God is Confident
Why would God want the focus to always be upon Him? Is He ego-centric? No. God is teaching us that apart from Him nothing we do will bear good-fruit. God recognizes that He alone is the path to our own happiness. God does not “need” us to boast of Himself. It is not as if God has poor self-esteem. He does not need us to make Him feel better about Himself. God is infinitely confident without one speck of arrogance. It just so happens that God is perfect, and He knows it. Yet He doesn’t boast of this out of arrogance, but rather reveals this to us so that we will look to Him for help. That is to say, God’s perfection is given to us out of service and love. God wants us to worship Him, to boast of Him, and to place Him on the highest pedestal because that is precisely what is good for us. God realizes He is the best thing (community of Persons) to offer us, and that there is nothing else that He can give us that is greater than Himself. That is to say that the greatest gift mankind could ever receive is the gift of God Himself.
Our worship and boasting of God is good for us because we are people who know who to thank. Without a sense of gratitude for all that God has done for us, without boasting of Him every day, we turn into self-centred, ungrateful, narcissistic brats. Think about it. If it is righteous to thank your parents for the gifts they give you, is it not all the more righteous to thank God for the whole universe? What about His death upon the cross, or the suffering moments in our life that have taught us how to love, and enables our love to be genuine? In all things we can find a reason for gratitude. Therefore we say at every mass, “It is truly right and Just” to give God praise. This makes us people of justice and righteousness to give God His due. God does not need our praise; He does not lose any perfection or confidence within Himself if we walk away. Rather, we lose the ability to be righteous and just, by walking away from worship. Without worshipping God, we fail to be good, morally. We might be good always in who He has created us to be, but our spirit is self-centred, nonetheless.
If we get excited about boasting of God, it means we have truly interiorized His Name, and it’s holiness. God has done so many marvelous things for us, we wouldn’t dare put His name under a bushel Basket. We are enthralled with love for Him, we don’t care if it seems offensive to mention. He is our friend, the Lover of our Soul, Infinite beauty itself. Everything takes a back-seat to His name, and a silent, anonymous Christianity dies.
Think back to Cain. When he built his own city he named it after his own son. Meanwhile the righteous line, stemming from Adam, did everything for the glory of God’s name. What a contrast! On the one hand, Cain places his emphasis on his own progeny, stressing the importance of what man can accomplish. Meanwhile, the righteous recognize that without God, nothing they accomplish is of any value. Cain has a plan to make glory for himself, which will all one day, destroy itself in the great flood. Cain places himself and human-ingenuity at the centre of everything, and inadvertently puts mankind into an ongoing conflict that will end by the mercy of God
The whole question to why there is war in our world, in our country, in our families is at stake here. And without spiritual peace, no structure or government power will ever foster genuine peace. This is where it is important to reflect on the science of spiritual-peace. You see, every person searches for happiness, and sometimes we are looking for it in the wrong places. We get confused, deceived, and think the world and all it has to offer will finally cause our soul to be at rest in peace. The world offers us Power, Pleasure, Honour, and Wealth, and yet none of these things finally resolve man’s anthropological need for happiness. They may only give us momentary feelings of happiness, but if they become idols, rather than tools, they will lead to addictions that enslave man and cause turmoil between his brother and sister.
The reason for the inevitable absence of peace in man who seeks happiness through human effort instead of faith, is because human effort only bears the fruit of finite goods, and man hungers, objectively, for what is infinite. No person wants their happiness to end (an incorruptible happiness is what we long for) and yet all sinners place their hope in things that die (power, pleasure, honour and wealth). And while these four things are finite, as a result they cause us to fight with each other, because by definition, what is finite is limited. If our apparent or perceived happiness is found in a limited resource, that means we have to fight and trample upon each other to find the so-called happiness we seek, because there is not enough to go around.
There is only one thing that can make mankind finally at peace with one another, and satisfied: God. God is infinite, and He shows no partiality. That is to say that if all our subjective (of the will) and active choices direct ourselves towards hunger in God for total fulfillment then we cease to be in competition with one another because there is enough of God to go around. God becomes the source that truly satisfies us. Our worship therefore is a heart aligned to God that can bear the fruit of genuine peace in the lives of all of humanity. God wants us to worship Him, because it creates and fosters a heart and mind that is truly oriented towards authentic world peace.
Such peace will never come through an effort towards structures and governments alone. Such is to build another tower of Babel that only seeks to make a name for itself. In fact, scripture claims that was the goal of the people building the tower of Babel. They sought to make a name for themselves. How many self-righteous people draw attention to their supposidly selfless deeds of aiding the poor today? How many activists puff themselves up for their saviour-like work? Whatever is popular or contrary and good for the world becomes a means to caress our ego, and again seek Honour. True peace will never be accomplished in this way. When they had constructed the Tower, God came down (which means they failed), and they were scattered, unable to communicate to each other. The universal language of justice and love had been lost, and men’s hearts were divided in such a way that everyone became, again, at odds with each other.
Narcissism can also enter the Religious
But religiosity is not sufficient for our salvation. We cannot simply have external practices of piety, but rather unite that external devotion to the Spirit of Truth. Without the Spirit, our external actions become scandalous, as we bless out loud, while cursing in our own heart. Don’t be fooled by the lawless, the solution is not to remove the external practices, but rather live up to what they are meant to communicate in Spirit. A hug, for example, communicates love. So make sure, when you hug someone, it is because you love them as a brother or sister. Those who put on a “good-show” will snap, connive, and pour out their venom through gossip. They have no real peace in their heart, but only place all their repressed efforts on showing themselves as the grand-man of humility. But when put to the test, they scatter like the hired hands who tend the sheep for their own personal profit.
The Pharisees therefore who sought to be “recognized” in public are not wrong because their worship was public. Rather they were wrong because their motives were twisted into “making a name for themselves.” Somehow the devil is able to offer us a counterfeit in every dimension of the Christian life. A Pharisee who had his heart rightly aligned would not seek to be recognized, but rather seek to recognize God. Likewise, the spirit of the world can infiltrate the spirit of the Christian so as to make repugnant what is meant to be a beautiful sign of God’s glory. Why have so many priests stopped wearing their collar? Why are so many people threatened by external acts of piety and reverence? Because it has now been associated with emptiness and self-worship. That is not what these external practices are meant to convey, and thus the solution isn’t to remove them as we see in the great “abstract-movement” of the post-conciliar Church. Rather, we are called to reignite the flame of the unity of body and soul, of external actions and spirit. Let us not fall into the trap of lawelessness or legalism.
Here are some questions that might awaken self-awareness and the capacity to interiorize this call, therefore to boast of God.
Do you lose your temper or self-control when the going-gets-tough?
This is a sign that the venom within your own soul has not been entirely drained by the mercy and patience and light of God. When it comes out, it means you have more areas for healing in your life. It is better to be honest about the venom than repress it, for when we repress it, we are merely putting on a show.
Do I experience jealousy at another’s accomplishments or recognition?
If so, does this not mean that you are seeking your own recognition? Envy is a sign that we are seeking finite goods, rather than God.
Solution: recognize that God is so utterly in Love with you. No matter what your failures or successes are, no matter what gifts you have or don’t have, that Love is a rock that will never change. Realize that this alone is what you need to be satisfied.
Do you experience wrath towards others?
Sometimes we begin to hate others because we view them as threats to our happiness or the happiness of others. But no principality or power, or prince or king can take away the Love that God has for us. Do not allow another person’s behaviour to cause you to lose your peace, for everything you need for true fulfillment has already been promised to you in Baptism.
Do you attach your worth to gifts/talents you may or may not have?
It is a common trap to think that what we can “do” is what makes us valuable. This is a lie. It is not what you can do that makes you good, it is who you are that makes you good. No matter what you do, God will always love you. Be at peace, knowing that you have this unconditional love; because no matter what you do to yourself or to others, you will always be God’s creation, and not your own creator.
Do you withhold forgiveness?
Sometimes we can be hurt, and forgiveness will be a process. Hating what a person has done is – if morally wrong – always acceptable, and should be the case. But hating the person takes that righteous anger too far. Every person was made for love, and you will never find true happiness until you accept this. Forgiveness is a way to honour God’s creation, rather than man’s behaviour. Do not look at your life experiences as removing any hope of true happiness. Recognize them, instead, as a means to become a truly good and loving person, and therefore one who will inherit the Kingdom of God.
Do you have low-self-esteem?
It is a common struggle for many today. Self-love is a good thing, when we realize that we are not giving credit to ourselves, but rather to the one who made us. We do not make ourselves, and therefore, self-love is not a self-compliment, it is a compliment to God. If you are looking for anything else, you will always find yourself caressing your own ego, and thereby setting yourself up to be self-centred. This will lead you to hate yourself more and more. But if you are other-focused, you will forget about yourself, and begin to love others and God. When you fulfill this task, you are truly loving yourself, because you are being exactly who you were meant to be.
Don’t have many friends?
Many go through dry periods in their life, and many more experience isolation. Blessed Mother Theresa described loneliness as one of the greatest forms of poverty in our world. First, recognize that to have friends, you have to be a friend to others. Also, realize that you have Christ as your friend, and He is patient, always willing to forgive when we aren’t the best of friends. Pray for good friendships, that you might encounter people who accept you as God intended you to be accepted.
But if you look at friendship as the source of your happiness, you will find everyone will let you down. No matter how loyal or patient others are, they will die, betray, or not totally fulfill what your heart is ultimately longing for. Only friendship with God will do that. Start building that relationship, and make sure it isn’t a fantasy or wishful thinking, or abstract. Make your relationship with Christ real and tangible. Seek Him in everything you do.
Eating or Lusting too much?
Often we turn to momentary experiences of pleasure to escape the very real hunger within us. Realize that what you are objectively hungering for is Divine Love, and feeling that ache within is not a reason to despair, but a part of you crying out to God like a prayer to be filled by Him alone. Imagine how satisfied you will be when that hunger is satisfied.