GUEST COLUMN: A world in need of mercy and kindness

September 28, 2018

See if any of this sounds like you.

“I wish I could act selfishly. I wish I could meet my needs first. I wish I could make sure that I’m taken care of before all others. I wish I could always be first in line. I wish I could do what I want, when I want.”

Put simply: Yes, I kind of wish I could be a little selfish. Sound like you?

It can be hard for us to not want to put ourselves first. But is there ever a time when we CAN be selfish, ever a time when God is ok with that, ever a time when looking out for us doesn’t mean we’re being bad people?

Yes. There is a time in which we get to act in our own interests. In fact, it’s a time when we must act “selfishly”, a particular time when acting otherwise is actually the completely wrong thing to do. I’m talking about the moral life.

That’s not fair, you say? That’s not something we actually enjoy. That’s not exactly true. And while it is true that most of us don’t get much enjoyment out of examining the moral choices we make for good or bad — we do certainly seem to enjoy examining the moral choices of others. We enjoy examining and pointing out the faults, weaknesses and even sins of other people.

I guess you could say we like being — in a certain sense — well, self less when it comes to critiquing and judging and criticizing. We enjoy being totally focused on others in this regard. But when it comes to ourselves and looking into our own actions, our own thoughts, our own motives — suddenly we’re not so interested.

Suddenly looking out for number one doesn’t hold the appeal it usually does. And yet, this seems to be the one time God wants us to be selfish, wants us to turn inward, wants us to take care of ourselves — and to a large extent, ourselves only. And maybe God doesn’t even simply want this from us — he may even demand it.

Jesus says some of the most challenging lines in all of scripture —words describing the need to cut off one’s hand, or one’s foot, or pluck out one’s eye — if any of these things are the cause of one’s sin. It’s as if Jesus is making sure the people understand that they need to stop focusing on what others are up to, and instead, worry about what’s going in their own lives, their own minds and their own hearts.

In other words , the creation of a better world doesn’t start by pointing out the faults of others but by examining our own faults and failings and sin in the hope of changing the world by changing ourselves.

It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts with each of us sincerely and humbly saying to ourselves, “I need to be better. I need to change. I need to love more perfectly.”

That’s the “selfishness” that God wants for each of us: a kind of honest humility in which each of us admits our own contribution to the world being less than God created it to be, a world in need of mercy, kindness, compassion and love. And each of us can certainly do something about that, but not if we’re overly focused on the behavior of others.

Jesus seems to have a real problem with that. Maybe we should, as well.

Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.

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