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Two ways: Selflessness or Selfishness

Feb 26, 2024

Cardinal Thomas Collins at the 2024 Serra US Rally, Miami, FL, Traveler’s Mass, January 18, 2024

I’ve often thought that one of the best opening lines in any book is found in a book called, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” from around the year 105 or so. Very early on, it begins with, “There are two ways: the way to life and the way to death, and there is a great difference between them.”

Get that straight; there’s a significant difference between them. In fact, we could take it a step further: There are two ways: the way to selflessness and the way to selfishness, and there is a great difference between them.

Selflessness is the way to life—living in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The very innermost mystery of everything is the Blessed Trinity; the selfless, generous relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This personal relationship within the unity of the one God is the image and likeness in which we are made. Therefore, we are meant to act out in this world, in our personal relationships with one another, that selfless, generous love at the very heart of God.

We’re not just to pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, though all our sacraments are done in the name of the Trinity. We begin prayers in the name of the Trinity, but we are to live in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by leading selfless lives—not in the name of the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I; that’s selfishness. The little letter “I” is very small, and yet, at least in the English language, it holds a central place in the word “sin” and “pride.” I often think of people who have caused trouble in history, for example, Henry VIII, who martyred great saints like John Fisher and Thomas More. Henry VIII, I think, is explained by selfishness—the way of turning inward, imploding like black holes in space that are so full of themselves that not even light escapes. We could become so full of ourselves that not even love escapes. That’s not the way; selfishness is not the way. Selflessness—what does it look like?

Well, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, eternally in that great reality, did not cling to His equality with God but emptied Himself, let go, and took his human life even to death on a cross. “Let your mind be like His,” says St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians. That’s selflessness; that’s the way it is to be. We find ourselves in that, and that’s true for all of us in our life of discipleship.

Oh, the power of that mighty little perpendicular pronoun!

As my favorite comedy show on YouTube—a British comedy called “Yes, Prime Minister”—portrays, there’s a character, Sir Humphrey Appleby, an aristocratic bureaucrat who reports to Jim Hacker, the politician.

Sir Humphrey has blundered, made a mistake, and he comes trembling before the boss, saying, “I hate to tell you, but the one responsible for this terrible disaster is one that I am in the habit of referring to by means of the perpendicular pronoun.”
Hacker asks, “What?,” and Humphrey says, “It was I.” So that’s the killer—the perpendicular pronoun.

That’s one of the fundamentals. Just like the story of the great sea captain who, despite his mighty sailing skills, had a little card that said, “Starboard is right, port is left.”

Selfishness is death; selflessness is life, and there’s a great difference between them. So, we have to govern our lives that way.
The more we seek our agenda, secretly serving “Me, Myself, and I,” the more we’ll be imploding into ourselves, weighed down. The more we forget ourselves, the more we find ourselves.

As the Lord said, “It is in dying that you will live.” The more we die to our ego, the more we will find ourselves filled with joy, because happiness always comes in the back door, never the front door, when we’re looking for it. It comes from the back door when we’re forgetting about it and just trying to serve other people. That’s the only way.

Looking at the readings today, they speak to us of that. Certainly, the Gospel does. The man for others is the Lord Jesus himself, who did not cling to His equality with God but constantly served.

Mark is fantastic. The Gospel of Mark is the voice of Mark but the words of Peter—the person always jumping out of the boat. In the Gospel, people are crowding around Jesus. He wants to get away to pray; they crowd around again. He gives himself. He doesn’t say, “Come back later; I’m putting my world on an answering machine.” No, he doesn’t do that. They look like sheep without a shepherd, so he flings himself into service.

In the first reading, we see Saul and his son Jonathan and their relationship with David. David, a rising star anointed by Samuel, was doing great things. Saul, filled with envy, is ready to pin him to the wall with a spear. Jonathan, the crown prince, has every right to be envious, but he isn’t. He demonstrates a selfless friendship. Friendship divides sorrows and doubles joy. Jonathan’s friendship is not possessive; he’s not in it for himself. Even when it’s to his disadvantage, he thinks of his friend. This noble friendship should be modeled in our own lives, in all our relationships with other people.

There are two ways: the way to life and the way to death, the way to selflessness in the imitation of Christ and the way to selfishness. There’s a great difference between them. We should give ourselves to the Lord with heart, mind, and soul so that we might be selfless servants of the Lord Jesus.

In our prayers for vocations, let’s pray that all those who come forward for various vocations in the church may be people who simply say, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Not, “My kingdom come, my will be done.”

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.” Not, “Listen, Lord; your servant is speaking.”

Behold the handmaid of the Lord—it all comes down to selflessness, emptying ourselves out, that the Lord God may come and find a pathway to our hearts.

Amen.