Another Antidote to Taking Ourselves Too Seriously

Two weeks ago, one idea struck a chord with many of us: That we take ourselves too seriously.  We see this, for example, when we take failure far too hard; make a mistake and keep thinking about it; can no longer rejoice in the good things around us; feel the health of our family depends all on us; get discouraged because we still have the same sins for years even though we are making improvement; are too concerned about what others think about our appearance; and expect every homily to be perfect (that’s for me).

[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
[View Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]

Do you see the common thread in taking ourselves too seriously?  The focus is too much on us.  God wants us to love and take care of ourselves, but we’re not the centre of the universe.

God is the centre of the universe, and the centre of our lives.  Today, we celebrate the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the liturgy keeps reminding us to praise God.  The very first prayer of Mass, the Entrance Antiphon, says: “Blest be God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit, for he has shown us his merciful love.”  Let’s put things in perspective: This is what life is about.  God is worthy of all praise—let’s give more time to this.

Look at the text of the Responsorial Psalm which we just sang (recited).  There are five lines.  What are the common themes?

1.   Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our fathers and blessed is your glorious and holy name.  

2.   Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory, and to be extolled and highly glorified forever.  

3.   Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom, and to be extolled and highly exalted forever.  

4.   Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne on the cherubim.  

5.   Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven, to be sung and glorified forever.

Look at the words: bless, extol, glorify!  Those words are important, because, when we take ourselves too seriously, we don’t use them in our prayers.  Rather, our prayers sound like, “God, why did this go wrong?  Why do I keep on making the same mistake?  Help me.  Show that person how to change.  Things are so hard.”  Of course, we need to complain in a holy way to God because He’s our Father and we expect Him to save us.  But where’s the praise?

More amazing is the place in the Bible from which this Psalm is taken.  It comes from the Book of the prophet Daniel, when three young men are thrown into a life-sized furnace for refusing to obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s order to worship a false god.  Their prayer is 60 verses (that’s long), and the first one-third of it accepts their fate as a punishment for their sins, then briefly asks for help, but the last two-thirds praises God!  Maybe the next time we’re in pain, we should try spending two-thirds of our time praising Him.

What does it mean to praise God?  The definition from the Catechism says this: “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes… that God is God.  It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory… simply because he is” (2639).  It’s not gratitude, which means thanking God for giving us something.  Praise just means recognizing that God is good and deserves our attention, even before He gives us anything.

Could we spend most of our day focused on God?  That’s what the Trinity does: Each Person focuses on the other.  Some people think the Trinity is boring, but they’re dynamic, always giving of themselves to the other Person (Avery Dulles, The New World of Faith, 37-38).  And could we think about what God is doing?  He’s always loving.

Praising God is all about Him!  But there’s a big problem: We’re fundamentally and deeply selfish as human beings.  At the beginning of the spiritual life, we only turn to God for ourselves.  There’s almost no one who turns to God because it’s right to praise Him.  It’s only after a long time of spiritual growth and purification of the heart that we start praising Him because He deserves it.

So how do we get there?  We have to motivate ourselves to praise by seeing the fruits of it in our lives.  Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., says nine things happen to us when we praise Him:

1. Gives us delight (since we’re focusing on the One we love).

2. Puts our universe in order.

3. Brings us peace.

4. Purifies our desires (when we do the most important thing, everything falls into place).

5. Helps us see the places where we need forgiveness and light (once we focus on God, we realize what distances us from Him).

6. Helps us to recognize what we have to be grateful for (the heart and mind are now in a good place, so we’re naturally more grateful).

7. Allows the Beatitudes to flow freely from us (the eight beatitudes are conditions and expressions of love (Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, 41), so, when we’re close to God’s heart, these eight flow through us).

8. Transforms us in the heart of Christ (because praising God makes us more like Christ).

9. Makes us free to act in accordance with God’s love (Five Pillars, 148).

Let me add five other benefits: First, when we praise God, we remember that He’s acting!  So often we think He’s doing nothing.  He’s working right now in all things for our good (Cf. Rom 8:28).  So don’t take failure too hard.  God brings good out of evil—that’s His specialty.

Second, when we praise Him, we remember that He forgets our sins once they’re confessed and forgiven.  We’re the ones who keep on letting past sins define us.  It’s good if we remember past sins so that we don’t repeat them.  It’s unproductive, however, if they discourage us from becoming saints.

Third, Fr. Jacques Philippe points out that when we are discouraged by our faults and imperfections, it’s quite often, deep down, because of our pride, that we’re not that holy, rather than purely out of love for God.  But, when we praise God and focus on Him, we realize that it’s only His grace that will perfect us (Searching for and Maintaining Peace, 56-61).

Fourth, when we praise God, we stop expecting perfection right away, because there’s only one person who’s perfect, and so we can do our best, stop procrastinating, and just get started.

Fifth, we’ll lose our messiah complex, which says that we’re the center of our family and ministry.  People who take themselves too seriously don’t ignore God, but make themselves the pilot and God the co-pilot, fitting Him into their plans  (Segundo Galilea, Temptation and Discernment, 23-24).  We are important, so important that the Gospel reminds us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  That’s why we should take life seriously.  Jesus came to bring us home to the Father, so it’s necessary to respond, believe in Him, and change our lives.  But, again, we’re not the centre of the universe.

The opening prayer or Collect says: “Grant… that… we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty.”  To praise God is a gift!  So let’s ask specifically: “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, please help me to praise You.  I know I’ll receive blessings from this, but I don’t want to do it in order to receive blessings.  I want to do it because You deserve it.”

Think about joining us any Wednesday night, in person or online for Praise and Worship adoration.  We look at Jesus in the Eucharist and just love Him, without any agenda, without trying to receive anything.

One of the most helpful ways to praise God is by starting prayers with praise.  Don’t start by thanking Him or asking Him for anything.  Start by saying, “Jesus, I praise You because You’re good, because You’re wonderful, because You’re powerful.  We give You glory and adoration.”  We worked on this three years ago, and I saw beautiful changes when people prayed out loud!  But something’s always missing when we hear prayers that never praise God.  Try for the next seven days, morning and evening, to include a prayer of praise.  See what happens and tell someone about it.

There was once a 17-year old genius who was also a narcissist, like many of us.  When he made the slightest mistake, he would experience great stress.  One time, during a high-school presentation, he mispronounced a word.  Someone came up after and said, “You pronounced spectroscopy as spectroscopy three times,” and the young man couldn’t let it go!  He even had suicidal thoughts!  (We all know what it’s like to exaggerate our mistakes!)  That young man was Fr. Spitzer, who now has accepted his imperfections and whose years of praising God have slowly transformed him (Finding True Happiness, 79-80, 192-193).

I’d like to end with a compilation of three saints not taking themselves too seriously.  They took life seriously, strove with all their hearts to avoid sin, and focused their hearts and minds on God.

One thought on “Another Antidote to Taking Ourselves Too Seriously

  1. Larry Wald says:

    Dear Father Justin ….. this homily is spot on and full of great advice. When I was working and someone who worked for me made an error in a presentation they made and had this really bother them, thinking everyone was talking about it making fun of it, I would tell them to “stop worrying about it, none of us are so important that others only think about us, trust me, everyone has moved on and are thinking of other things so you should move on as well”. But when I might have made a mistake, all of this advice quickly went out the window and I wouldn’t let it go, thinking everyone was talking about the small error I might have made. I am such a slow learner! The good news is that I do find myself more and more praising God for who He is and for what He does as opposed to asking Him for something ….. although I do that as well. I know when I talk to God in this way, I end up feeling much better about our relationship and about myself. God bless you, Father. It would be great to have you come back to OLOA for a visit. Stay safe and stay well!

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