Live in God by Dying to Yourself

‘Fighting against evil, against every form of selfishness and hate, and dying to oneself to live in God,’ said Benedict XVI, ‘is the ascetic journey that every disciple of Jesus is called to make with humility and patience, with generosity and perseverance.’

David Teniers the Younger, “St. Peter in Penitence,” ca. 1634
David Teniers the Younger, “St. Peter in Penitence,” ca. 1634 (photo: Public Domain)

We die to ourselves when we acknowledge others are our “other selves.” We express this connection and love for our brothers and sisters who are near and far and separated by time, either those in the distant past or in the extreme future. We preach universal brotherhood and strive toward that ideal. To die to ourselves and thus allow others to live more fully we should consider these small ways:

1. Prayer. By eschewing prayer, a Christian does him or herself a great disservice. A Christian who doesn’t pray is like the person who hits himself in the head with a hammer and then wonders why he has a headache. Prayer serves many practical and indispensable purposes. One can dramatically change the kind of person one is with it. One can learn about the Love who called us into existence. Prayer offers answers to the most important questions in life and it’s free.

2. Penance. If you think you’re so terrific, you’re not. The enormity of our sin weighs always upon us. It’s both humorous and disturbing to listen to people who insist that sin doesn’t exist or that God doesn’t bother with such “trivial” and “relativistic” human notions. If this were true, those who keep such silly ideas wouldn’t complain about the behavior of others. We must address the wrongs we’ve committed in life, seek to restore our relationship with Christ and bring about good in the world.

3. The Corporal Works of Mercy. Corporal works of mercy serve temporal needs. The first six are listed in Matthew 25:31-46 while the last comes from Tobit 4:3:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless/Offer hospitality
  • Visit the sick
  • Ransom captives/Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

4. The Spiritual Works of Mercy. The spiritual acts of mercy provide for the needs of the spirit:

  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive offenses willingly
  • Comfort the afflicted
  • Pray for the living and the dead

5. Simplicity. By living simply, we keep our lives uncluttered, centered on God and unattached to unimportant things.

6. Moral and Logical Consistency. Arbitrariness is a sign of an uncommitted and unexamined conscience. It’s important to make moral choices and to stick with them. If not, one is tempted to rationalize some very bad behaviors.

7. Mortification. Our modern world is full of comforts that affect our outlook on life, on ourselves and on others. Fasting is a good way to personally acknowledge the poor of the world rather than simply treat hunger as if it were an intellectual problem one can forget a few minutes later. One’s humility is also improved by learning to curb your anger for the sake of charity. By volunteering or donating money to charitable organizations, one does without so that others might share in the good fortune God has freely and liberally given you.

8. Responsibility. One should choose their professions and pastimes responsibly and ethically. One should always live a life of integrity in which one’s actions reflect one’s values. You should also take serious note of your shopping habits to make sure you aren’t helping finance unethical companies or nations that mistreat their citizens.

9. Awareness of the Political, Social and Spiritual Conditions of the world. In Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge that the two greatest enemies of mankind are Want and Ignorance. It is unconscionable for a Christian to live in the world in intentional ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Caring for those who can’t care for themselves is only possible when we are aware of their suffering.

Each of these acts kills the ego step by step. And with each step, the emptiness inside us is filled by God. We build a civilization of love by caring for others and we care for others not because there’s “something in it for ourselves” but because we truly see the Face of God in our brothers and sisters.

Many people will try to obfuscate by arguing metaethical definitions of good and evil are meaningless or are relative to the questioner or the situation. This is perfect nonsense. There is even an empirical experiment to prove that good and evil are objective terms — all you need to do is choose a random behavior and have it perpetrated upon yourself, your children and loved ones and gauge their reactions. This is called “The Golden Rule.” It’s worked perfectly since we descended from the trees and no atheist, no modernist, no moral relativist, no materialist has ever come close to offering society a better alternative.