If we are brutally honest, most Catholics must concede we view the world as if we stood at the centre of the universe with everyone and everything else revolving around us. This egocentric stance affects how we think, feel, act, and pray. Even though many committed disciples have renounced a ruthless pursuit of power and money to serve God and His people, most of us still function more conscious of self than God, living daily life in a state of interior isolation, not in communion with the Holy Spirit. This self-centered viewpoint in my own life meant I only appeared saintly on the surface as I mothered nine little people. Despite the fact I honestly longed to live in constant communion with the Holy Spirit, I was focused more on myself than on Christ.
The truth is, even when we are praying, we can still remain anchored in our egos. There is a profound difference between a person who is self-conscious, self-aware, sitting on a hilltop praising God for a gorgeous sunset, and someone who is so lost in the splendour of the moment that they become one with God whom they adore.
From Egocentric to God-Centric
To change from an egocentric to a God-centric life seems impossible. The quandary every human being who is trying to grow spiritually must tackle eventually is, “How do I die to my false self?” Even if I want to deny myself because I realise this is the price of serious discipleship, I don’t know how.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27
At first glance, this Gospel seems like another one of Christ’s riddles, specifically coined to drive ordinary mortals crazy. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. When we do die to our false selves, we are promised we will actually find our true selves. In an attempt to become dedicated disciples, young Christians inevitably attempt great acts of self-denial, prayer, and almsgiving before they realise even religious devotions can be centred on self, on what I am doing for God. Most of us have still not died to our old life and found our true life hidden in God.
Living At The Centre of the Universe
Christians are invited by the Lord to empty ourselves of ourselves to make room for His Life to dwell in us. The God of the entire universe lived as a mortal and died for our sinful, false selves. He is the saviour; He will save us from ourselves. Once we let go of pride and become one with the Mystical Body of Christ, then we are no longer at the centre of our awareness. Saints simply stand among the crowd of believers, both the living and the dead, worshipping in freedom and in truth with God at the centre of all creation.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
Only God Can Initiate; We Simply Respond
Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life. Thus we shall consider first that search, then the divine Revelation by which God comes to meet man…
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.
Initially, I did not fully understand God’s ways so I tried to initiate my own spiritual growth. The harder I tried to grow spiritually, the harder my inner soul held onto the reins of control. The experience often brought me to tears of frustration; I was stuck. Henri Nouwen explains the futility of man-made spirituality:
“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”
Nouwen took his focus off himself and looked to God, responding and surrendering, rather than initiating and performing to earn the prize of intimacy with Christ.
My experience was similar. When I was finally so exhausted from trying to be spiritual, I relaxed which gave God the opening He needed to take charge. In my inner vision, I was a child living in a dark prison behind a huge door which was locked. Golden light streamed through the keyhole but I could not force the door open. When I stopped struggling, I started to shrink till I dangled like a helpless doll from the door’s steel lever. Miraculously the door swung open, flooding my prison with heavenly light and I was swept into an immense sea of love with other Christians, swirling and worshiping God, the centre of the universe. I finally surrendered to reality and God took over.
The Father seeks out and invites the exhausted, the poor and the broken to His Heavenly Banquet. Those originally invited were too busy to attend the wedding feast:
Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. Luke 14:21-23