From the Rev. Brandon Filbert, rector of St. Timothy, Salem.
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for your self, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. -C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.
We are living in an era engaged in one of the most stunningly hopeless projects in all human history: the project of trying to find our meaning in life by focusing exclusively on the self. America is convinced that if only we “could be ourselves,” we would be happy and at peace. Gigantic amounts of money are spent each year to do this.
The search for “self” alone when coupled with consumerism means we labor under a heavy burden of isolating, demanding individualism: “I am what I make myself to be, with reference to nothing except what I purchase or the ideology with which I identify.” For homo americanus, each day brings with it the labor of defining the self vis-a-vis the “other” – and, increasingly, seeing the “other” as an enemy who must be converted to one’s own point of view or removed from view, so that the autonomous self may reign supreme. This leads to a state of continual struggle, conflict, and antagonism between rival “selves,” resulting in the current, embittered state of affairs in our nation.
Catholic Christianity, of which we are part, has a completely different understanding of “self.” That basis is found in our understanding of God-in-Trinity. In reflecting on the Trinity, we learn, among other things, that the self may only be understood in relationship with the other, and that “self” is ultimately only meaningful in communion. If God is “one Being in Trinity of Persons” and we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we, too, find ourselves not in competition with others or by negating others, but by entering into fellowship with our neighbor through an ongoing communion in God, the fountain of life, love, and relationship.
Years ago I asked my spiritual director – a solitary monastic – about her most important work each day. She said: “Prayer – to God and for my neighbor and the world; only then may I be truly ‘me.'” Living in communion with God the Holy Trinity, she is able to live as a full and participating member of the Body while remaining solitary. In the process, she lives out her true character and vocation. As Lewis wrote above, when we seek God in communion, we find God, and with Him, “everything else thrown in.” Indeed, we find our true selves.
On Trinity Sunday (June 11 this year) we will give special thanks for the gift of knowing God-in-Trinity. At the end of St. Timothy’s 10 am liturgy we will sing the Te Deum, one of the Church’s oldest and greatest prayers of praise. We will enter into the mystery of the Trinity through worship and adoration…both as individuals and as a community. Above all, we will offer our entire selves to God, so that we may receive our whole beings back again, restored, renewed, and revealed as “beings-in-communion” eternally sharing in the knowledge and love of the Holy One-in-Three.