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Father Thomas Miller’s sermon on Self-Love
Scripture declares very strongly, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Out of all the admonitions in the Old Testament law, Jesus chose two: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind: this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) That’s a very strong statement.
We often focus so much on the admonition to love our neighbor that we overlook the assumption—more than an implication but a fundamental—that we love ourselves. We are told to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Self-love can sound selfish, but, at its heart, it refers to the truth that, “I am the actor who needs to use my God-given freedom and will to claim my spiritual heritage, to actualize (put in motion) the spiritual laws that connect me with my Source.”
However, we can get caught up in dualism—the belief that I am separate from God and from others and that life is neatly divided into good and evil. Out of this, we can create a tempter, an "other" to feel threatened by and to blame. But until I renounce my excuses and take responsibility I will be unable to accept God's gifts and "claim my heritage."
Self-love involves becoming an appreciator of one's own God-given divinity. Instead of seeing one's self through the eyes of an inner critic—assessing, comparing, rating—self-love is seeing ourselves through eyes of love and compassion, knowing and believing that “I am a beloved child of God.”
Self-love is not being narcissistic or thinking more highly of ourselves than others. Interestingly, it also does not mean that we are always the most generous one. Always being the giver seems like the most unselfish way to behave, but it can become a form of Hoarding the Virtue. A very generous friend was once stopped in her tracks by someone who said, “So, you want to have all the pleasure of being the generous one for yourself, is that right? Not allow others that joy?”
Self-love is also not an inflated ego. It isn’t bragging, which usually arises out of lack of self-love and a desire to prove one’s worth to others. Self-love is not about self-image. It isn’t about feeling worth by aligning with the “right” belief system or belonging to the most laudable group.
If we are unable to love ourselves, all of the above can be taken on as a substitute. If we are unable to love ourselves, we usually look for someone else to love us, often looking for love in the wrong places.
Healthy self-love is seeing, learning, and accepting our own beauty. It is knowing and believing that each one of us is a beloved child of God. Genuine self-love is a prerequisite for loving others well.
We acknowledge that we are wonderfully created by God in God’s own image. The key themes of Advent (and the entire year) are to seek strength to cast away “works of darkness” and to put on the armor of light, and that by these strengths and being ever-mindful of our spiritual heritage, we will be heaven builders, ambassadors of the in-breaking commonwealth of justice and peace.
The “works of darkness” are not the machinations of a devil trying to thwart God, but rather are the effects of intoxication with the material world that hide from us the strength and light of our true God-given nature.
God's love can be temporarily obscured by our enmeshment with the creation. Enmeshments range from mild bad habits (can be shaken off by conscience and self-control) to moderate obsessions (takes extended, persistent work, but achievable, sometimes with help), and addictions (requiring much stronger help). Each of these distractions diminishes the ability to live a life that includes work, play, and love. If I can't work with some purpose and passion, play in a rejuvenating, joyful way, and love freely will full heart, then I've turned my back on God's grace. But God never stops loving, and is ever knocking on a door that I can choose to open.
On a practical level, self-love includes physical self-care, seeing the body as the temple of God. It also involves setting healthy boundaries—in work and play, use of time, cycles of activity and rest, socializing and solitude, and so on.
God’s love—the foundation of our true nature as God-created souls—cannot be disowned. It is not earned, deserved or self-preserved. Unlike human love, God's love is irrevocable—it is a gift. Our perfect freedom is never revoked, we are forever free to use it to choose love. All God's children “will one day reach his feet, however far they stray.”
This is our spiritual heritage—God’s unconditional love—which is our birthright and from which we gain the ability to love ourselves and others with the same grace and full acceptance.
The four weeks before Christmas are, together, called Advent. The word advent means an arrival of something notable, important, and awaited. Advent, as a time in the Christian Year, is not just a hearkening and anticipation of Christmas. Advent is an arrival itself. The precious holiday season has begun.
What has arrived? It’s an invitation, placed in our spiritual mailbox, embossed in the beautiful colors of Advent—purple, gold, rose. It invites us to go for it, to make the spiritual possibilities of this season a priority, because it is notable, it’s of use to us. Advent gives us a chance for a strong and rich beginning to the sequence of the whole Church Year which is designed to help us on our journey, to help with our awakening.
But, we might ask, if the Christ Light, the indwelling divinity within each of us, is ever-present, always available, then why do we have to do anything at all? Why does it need to be born or awakened?
We’re told that it’s because of ignorance, a word often thought of as stupidity or lack of knowledge, but at its root is the verb ignore—to take no notice of, pay no attention to. This glorious reality can remain hidden to a larger or smaller degree if we pay little attention to it, if we’re just caught up in being busy. It’s right under our noses, but we can ignore—not pay attention to—the splendor of it.
Advent is a call to attention, to consideration, to wakefulness, to what this season is really about.
This invitation, arriving in our spiritual mailbox, has a few instructions, like invitations generally do (how you get there, what to bring, etc.), and these instructions help us set ourselves deliberately on the spiritual path of the Christmas season, so we can experience and live the full glory of what it has to offer.
Some of these instructions are given to us in the Epistle and Gospel readings from the first Sunday in Advent:
St. Paul talks of paying dues in the form of tribute, custom and honor. He’s speaking to the Romans, who have an ingrained sense of the enforced paying of dues. But once he establishes a context, he shifts gears and says:
“Love one another, for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."
In the Christmas season, we can get caught up in the tribute, custom, obligation, value of gifts, and all the rest—what we believe is expected of us. But if love is dominant, the emphasis changes and the tribute and honor is given from the heart rather than obligation.
“Awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
Pay attention. The glorious reality of Divine Life is right under our noses. Not far away.
St. Luke, in the Gospel reading instructs us to:
“Look up, lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Same message—pay attention so you don’t miss out on the glorious possibilities.
“Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and with the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”
Applied to this season, Christmas can arrive before we know it and catch us unawares, if we have been so “overcharged” with the busy details of decorating, gift buying, attending events, and other holiday “surfeiting and cares of this life.” We may then realize that we haven’t taken the time to settle into the deepest meaning and significance of the Christmas season.
So here we have this invitation in our hands. Will we RSVP? Will we step into this opportunity to have a holiday season that is truly made up of Holy Days—for that, of course, is the meaning of the word holiday. It’s an ancient holiness that is always new. It’s a matter of attention, priorities, and remembering—not ignoring—the tremendous potential of the Christmas season and on through the whole Church Year, starting with the four weeks of Advent.
by Donna Colby
The quarterly journal of The Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States. Archive of issues beginning Advent 2011. Click the issue link to download or view online.
I believe that the suppression of emotion is one of the main culprits is keeping our inherent spiritual nature root-bound. By now it is commonplace to know about the medical and health benefits of "a good cry", but other lingering social conventions (and even spiritual teachings!) denigrate the natural feeling of sadness and the shedding of tears. (see: Health Benefits of Tears)
Of course most of us would prefer to feel joy, but denying, suppressing, or avoiding sad feelings when they naturally arise is a sure way to prolong the lessons and healing that stand before us. Rather than assuming an attitude of feeling joyful when healing is needed first, wisdom suggests that we find a way to accept the cup that has come to us. But remember, while we must do our own healing (ultimately an interior process), we need not do it alone. continue reading
Absolution, one of the Seven Sacraments of the church catholic, comes from the Latin root words ab solvo, which mean "to loosen". This Sacrament is intended to help the person to discontinue from erroneous behavior, but, as, or more important, to be relieved and disconnected from the downheartedness and guilt that perpetuate of such behavior. Absolution provides an important feature in the life of the spiritual aspirant.
Absolution has commonly become known in just one of it's forms - confession - the telling of one's sins to a priest. The Liberal Catholic Church offers two additional, traditional forms of the Sacrament of Absolution. continue reading
''Those who take their religion seriously commonly go through a period, sometimes a
long period, when they experience the apparent absence of God. The ideas, images,
concepts which they have previously used in thinking about God or addressing him
have suddenly become meaningless and unreal.
The person feels as if God is absent or does not exist. The reason for this disagreeable
phenomenon is ... continue reading
"The Spirit of God blows out from us so that we can love and perform good acts. Then he draws us into ourselves so that we can take rest and find enjoyment in him. This is eternal life: not unlike our breathing the air out of our lungs and breathing in fresh air. What I mean is: we move inwardly in a mystical enjoyment and move outwardly in good works, both in communion with God. Just as we open our eyes, look and then close them again, in such a smooth transition that we hardly notice what we are doing, so we die in God and live out of God, always remaining united to him."
"In the abyss of this darkness, in which the loving spirit has
died to itself, there begin the manifestation of God and eternal
life. For in this darkness there shines and is born an
incomprehensible Light, which is the Son of God, in Whom we behold
eternal life. And in this Light one becomes seeing; and this
Divine Light is given to the simple sight of the spirit, where the
spirit receives the brightness which is God Himself, above all
gifts and every creaturely activity, in the idle emptiness in
which the spirit has lost itself through love which attains an
external goal, and where it receives without means the
brightness of God, and is changed without interruption into
that brightness which it receives."
The fundamental energy of Christ’s church is compassionate love - His love for us, our love for Him, and our love for Him in our neighbors. So it is not surprising to find that prayers for the support of those in need play an important part in virtually all Christian services. But they play an especially significant role in the Eucharist of the apostolic churches. continue reading