Let’s take a quiz to find out if we’re selfish or not, and, if so, how selfish we are. The following five questions will give us a sense of how selfish we may be:
- Do we lie? If so, how often? In my experience, we usually lie to protect ourselves, to gain some advantage for ourselves, or to make ourselves look good. Sometimes we lie to protect other people, but that’s more rare.
- When we’re with family and friends, how often do we insist on what we want to do (E.g. What movie to watch, what restaurant to go to, or when to leave)? Are we willing to do what other people want?
- What percentage of our money do we give to charity and good causes? Not how much do we give, but what percentage?
- How much time a day do we spend adoring God, praising Him, or thanking Him? Or do most of our prayers focus on asking for things?
- What do we do in our life where we get nothing out of it? Most of us do things because we enjoy them, receive something good from them, or enjoy the people we’re with—that’s not necessarily bad; after all, God created pleasure and uses our passions and desires to lead us. But, He also calls us to do good things that we just don’t happen to like (e.g. spend time with people we don’t find interesting, help people in need, not because we enjoy it, but because they need it).
We’re all selfish to some extent (I don’t like it either). We’re called to be people who do the right thing instead of what feels good, who think of other people before ourselves. That’s why today’s first reading is so inspiring! It gives us an antidote to our selfishness. The prophet Isaiah has a vision of God robed in majesty with angels worshipping Him, singing His praises, and acclaiming how holy He is. When I prayed over this, I felt a longing to do what the angels do: praise God all day long; not to ask Him for things, not to think about my problems, but to focus on Him.
While on retreat in the seminary in New York, a priest once instructed us to spend an hour in prayer and not do anything; just be in God’s presence and praise Him. My classmate, now Fr. Alessandro, said it was so freeing to not go in with an agenda. I always feel that, when I go to prayer without trying to get something out of it, I’m free.
Did you know that most monks pray the Liturgy of the Hours between five to eight times a day? Not only do they celebrate Mass every day, but they come together to sing the psalms five to eight times a day. They never miss these prayers, but always stop whatever work they’re doing when the bell rings so that they can do what the angels do. Why do they do this? Because God deserves it. Would it be possible for us to praise God just because He deserves it? Why do we come to Mass? Would praising God be a strong enough reason to come?
Do you remember the poster we had up in the vestibule fundraising for the centre poster? It said, “What’s in it for us?” When I saw this I was immediately bothered because it was a selfish question. What if there’s nothing in it for us, will we not give? Is that the kind of people we are? Needless to say, I took the poster down!
There’s a good movie about morality with Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson called “Changing Lanes.” In one scene Jackson’s character says to his co-worker, “Can you get me a messenger?” The co-worker asks, “What for?” “I found something. I wanna give it back to the person it belongs to.” “Is there a reward or something?” “Yeah.” “What is it?” “Doing the right thing.”
Fr. Peter John Cameron, the priest who taught me how to give homilies, told us that every homily must explain why God’s teaching is good news. So, last week, we talked about how seeking the greater gifts will make our life better. The week before we talked about how the Bible can transform our lives. And the week before that we talked about how miracles will happen when we’re open to God’s will. Preaching like this is good, because we need to see the reasons behind God’s teaching and how everything God and the Church asks of us will make our lives better.
But, would we do something right even if it didn’t make our lives better? Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend 5 minutes in adoration every day just because God deserves it? Wouldn’t it be great if a husband bought flowers for his wife, not because it’s their anniversary, but because she deserves it? Wouldn’t it be great if more men and women sacrificed marriage to be priests and sisters, not because they’re going to get anything out of it, but just to serve God?
There is a huge difference between God and us. The three Persons of the Trinity have no selfishness among them. Each person gives everything He has to the other person. When Jesus became man, He got nothing out of it; He did it because He loved His Father. When He died on the cross, He got nothing out of it; He did it because He loved us.
How about this week we work on doing the right thing, just because it’s right? Let’s choose to work on one specific action, perhaps taken from our quiz. (For sure, let’s stop lying, for good; from now on, we’ll always tell the truth, because people deserve it.) Let’s be willing perhaps to do what other people want and to listen to them, not check our phones when we’re with other people; let’s pay attention to them, ask them how they are, get to know people; let’s affirm them. Let’s give a greater percentage of our money to those in need. Let’s begin our prayers praising God. Let’s do something good even though we get nothing in return.
Praising God will make us better people, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because He deserves it.