Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dying to Self

Fr. Dale Matson

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26, NASB)

Wednesday is the feast day of Laurence Deacon and Martyr at Rome. Our Gospel reading from John is intended to illustrate how the death of Laurence and other martyrs brought many into the church through the witness of the martyrs who were willing to die for Christ and His bride, the church. He was given an extra three days to think about his death following the death of Pope Sixtus II and six of his fellow deacons. Laurence finally presented the “treasures” of the church as Emperor Valerian demanded; the poor, widows, orphans, sick and aged. An angry Valerian rewarded Laurence by roasting him alive.
Witness to others also calls for dying to self and this is something that we have the opportunity to do daily. It is easier to do this for those we love. Sometimes it is as simple a gesture as getting up from a meal to get something for someone who needs it.

Serving Christ is not really serving Him or serving others as much as it is serving Him in others. It is not sympathy or even empathy. It is compassion which is a visceral response to human need and suffering.  It is kindheartedness; an internally motivated desire to help others. This good will is an expression and evidence of the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only informs our prayers, He conforms our prayers to the will of God, and He surprises us with our unexpected compassion for others. He helps us to extend mercy to those in need of mercy.

This dying to self is not suicide. It is divestment. Dying to self is not loss. It is gain. Pride is a greater burden than humility. Sometimes when Christ binds the strongman, it is not Satan but us who are the strongman. The goods He steals from us are pride, condescension, contempt, disrespect and self-righteousness. These goods are precious to us. They are keepsakes with emotional attachment. Like the good china, we like to take them out and show them off to guests in our home.

Losing your life for Christ’s sake has a metaphor for clergy as they prostrate themselves before ordination. Is this total submission? We’d like to think so, but I’ve been to enough clergy meetings to know that sometimes the real agenda is ego and turf protection. Those who couldn’t get enough power in one profession sought more power in another. Am I a part of this? Of course I am. My trophies may not be in the living room anymore but they are in the attic, just in case…well they serve as invisible ego collateral.

Being willing to die for Christ is easier for those who have truly already done so. It is not just the willingness to surrender the body but the gifting of our Soul to Him whom we serve. Amen  

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