Tuesday, March 27, 2012

40 Things #30: Dying to Self

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

Although I'm sure I heard the phrase here and there as I grew up in the faith, the first time I ever gave significant thought to "dying to self" was when I read Jen's post about it a few years back.   It made sense in theory: to live a full Christian life, we must put to death our attachment to sin: "Slowly, I began to understand that to die to self was to die to the willful, selfish, sinful parts of ourselves; to let go of our plans and what we want to do based on comfort and convenience."

Of course, what's plain and simple in theory can be very challenging in practice.  I still have very far to go on my spiritual journey, but I know I've made a little headway in recent years.  I have found that dying to self can happen very slowly.  When I first re-committed to trying to live a virtuous life, I could see many of the big problems in my life, the grave sins.  But I was fairly oblivious to the smaller ones, the little vices that had crept into my life over the years, the sinful habits that I was firmly entrenched in and attached to.  In many ways, those are the ones that have been the most difficult to overcome -- to die to.

For example, one of my many vices is a tendency to be a bit of a miser.  I'm always afraid that a major catastrophe will befall us and we won't have enough money to face whatever it is.  A few years ago, I received a raise at work, which got me thinking that we probably should start contributing more to the church.  I really fought the idea -- we were hoping to conceive soon (we did), and once the baby came I didn't know if I'd keep working, go part-time, or quit, and I had this rambling argument with myself about how we really needed to save, blah blah blah, so even though I was making more it should just all be saved, blah blah.  I wrapped it up with "I have to take care of my family."  Immediately, I felt a Voice in my heart say, "I take care of your family."

Oh.  Right.  Suddenly it was so obvious: I was so attached to the idea that if we only had enough money saved up, we could conquer anything, that I had lost sight of Who is really in control.  "Do not put your trust in princes" (Psalm 146:3)...and there I was, putting all my trust in myself and in money.  Talk about building a house on sand (Matthew 7:26).  I approached Colin and suggested that we increase our weekly offering at Mass; he agreed, and we did it.

Of course, sometimes dying to self can happen very quickly.  My prime example (I know, too easy) is becoming a mother.  In some ways, I felt like the old Louise had died -- and she did, because Louise as a non-mother would never exist again.  But the truth is, the new Louise is more me than the old one ever was.

You don't have to be a parent to die to self, though.  Anyone living out his or her vocation -- whether as a single person, married person, or consecrated religious -- has ample opportunity to empty himself or herself of vanity, self-interest, pride, and attachment to sin.  We do it every time we love.

"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)

"He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30) 

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:24)

"It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)

"For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." (from the Prayer of St. Francis)

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