Wholly Self-Centered

Blogger’s Note: It’s been awhile. We’ve had an eventful holiday season—I’ll catch you up soon! In the meantime, here’s a short reflection from this weekend.

I have long experience at being self-centered. Those who know me know that I am both self-critical and self-righteous, quick-tempered, easily disillusioned, and a bit of a navel-gazer. I fight against these tendencies, fail frequently, and because I know too well my own selfish tendencies, I see (or imagine) my failings in those I love.

I’m a peach; just ask my family.

So I look to Jesus—particularly Christ on the cross—as a model for how I ought to be: pouring myself out for others entirely, with no regard for myself. The life-size crucifix in our church is often the focal point of my mental prayer during Mass; although I know Jesus is present in the tabernacle and on the altar, my eyes are drawn again and again to the image of Him, arms outstretched to embrace the world in death as He did in life.

In recent weeks, I’ve made a more concerted effort to focus my attention on the Eucharist—to will my eyes away from the visible imitation of Christ on the cross to the real but invisible presence of Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I gaze upon the host and chalice from my pew, tell myself it’s Him, ask to emptied of all distraction and any desire except for Him. I strive to step forward to receive Him hungrily, gratefully, not thinking about a second cup of coffee or our big Sunday breakfast. I return to the pew chewing thoughtfully; I kneel, swallow, pray—and my eyes are again on the crucifix. I tug them away, to the tabernacle, the nearest communion line, wherever the Eucharist is most clearly visible.

He’s here. Truly present. Why do you look past His presence, right in front of you?

Then this past weekend I was the second reader, proclaiming the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, that the body is for Jesus and Jesus is for the body.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. — 1 Cor 6:19-20

After receiving Holy Communion, it was the same drill: chew, swallow, kneel, pray—gaze upon the crucifix, the visible unreal Christ instead of the invisible real One.

Then it dawned on me, not for the first time, but more profoundly than in the past: the tabernacle, the communion line a few feet away…even these are not the most real and intimate presence of Jesus available to me in that moment. He is within me; His blood still burns my lips.

Therefore glorify God in your body.

An old prayer of sorts, from a burst of inspiration years ago, came to mind:

Lord, make of me a monstrance, the Eucharist at my heart, that all may see your light in me and know how great Thou art. Amen.

God deigns to become our very sustenance, that He might dwell within us: We are temples of the Holy Spirit. In this respect we are called to a holy self-centeredness, in order to ensure a suitable dwelling place for the Lord. Particularly in those moments immediately after Communion, my Adoration should be inward, should it not?

He’s here. Truly present. Why do you look away from His presence within your own body, your own heart?

And today it occurs to me: The saints warn us to look to the health and sanctity of our own souls before pursuing others, since we cannot share the God we do not possess. Perhaps there is a difference, then, between self-centered and selfish? We are made from love, for love—to give ourselves for the good of others. When we don’t do this, we are self-ish—unsettled and not entirely our self, in the same way someone who is hungry-ish is unsettled but not exactly hungry.

Self-centeredness, on the other hand, is perhaps better defined simply as centered on self: who we are, and more importantly, why we are. A holy self-centeredness recognizes God truly present within ourselves—and by extension, each person we meet, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches to regard our neighbor as another self (CCC 1931). If we abandon our self-ish-ness, we can become wholly self-centered: truly human, made for a purpose, loved and loving, an undivided image of God.

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