“There are three people I take care of first: Me, Myself, and I!” With that, the man clearly showed his priority in his life – himself.
Let’s face it, while most of us aren’t as forthright as the gentleman above, we have to confess our behavior betrays our priorities. Whether we admit it or not, our own comfort, our own desires, our own priorities, beliefs, and wants, hold a strong position in our lives, perhaps even the most important position. To be sure, we want to avoid coming off as some self-centered, arrogant, bully. We don’t want others to think of us as selfish oafs. But subtly we work very hard to get our own way.
But this isn’t a “new” reality. It’s been part of humanity since the beginning, and it isn’t always a bad thing, but it is always a dangerous thing.
That’s because without the spiritual disciplines of love and forgiveness and faith, these selfish tendencies destroy the whole point of life – relationships.
Even religion and spiritual gifts can become so self centered that what was meant to foster and grow relationships becomes the very opposite! That’s what St. Paul was dealing with in the Church at Corinth in today’s Epistle Lesson.
In 1 Corinthians 14:6-19 St. Paul confronts the faithful at Corinth with a deep seated weakness in their spiritual maturity. He calls them to see that their forgetfulness of others around them has led, not to spiritual health and mature relationships, but to chaos and a stunted spiritual growth that has deeper consequences than just unpleasant experiences. No, this poverty of attention and care will eventually canker their relationship with God Himself. And that, my dears, is a sickness that no loving father can ignore!
Read the whole passage, but look at verses 9-12 as the heart of what St. Paul is trying to communicate: “So with yourselves; if you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning; but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”
Notice St. Paul insists that the underlying motivation for our behavior in the parish is for “building up the church.” This has to be the litmus test for our actions, words, and choices. But the sickness of selfish blindness does just the opposite, it tears down rather than builds up.
While St. Paul uses the really easy example of language to get his point across, the principle of “building up the church” is so applicable to many situations and it reveals whether we truly love our neighbor as ourself or not.
Today, it is so easy to simply not notice selfish choices. We live in an age and a day when it seems “if I don’t protect myself, I’ll get taken advantage of” and that can lead us to such a place of spiritual poverty we lose the ability to see how destructive our actions, words, and attitudes can be. If I have become so insecure and faithless as to believe I am my own best defender, then the next stop is the loneliness and isolation of constant “protective” fear. But this is not what you were made for!
As we say “goodbye” to the Feast of the Transfiguration, let’s notice that our Lord wasn’t transfigured by Himself. Sts. Moses and Elijah appeared with Him to teach us we won’t be “transfigured” by ourselves either. And knowing this is a remedy to the dead end of forgetting our choices, our actions, our words must be motivated by the powerful insight of “building up the church” in our lives. Are your actions, attitudes, and choices building up your church?