Monday, 19 January 2009

St Francis of Assisi: Patron of Narcissists?

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big show off. Anyone who started a band called The Astonishing is not going to be the world's most self-effacing person. The sin of abnormal self-love is certainly a problematic one in the Christian Faith because love of self stands in direct opposition to the love of God, who alone is worthy of our love and devotion. The sin of Pride leads the soul into chaos and self-destruction and history is littered with souls whose narcissism was made woefully manifest.

St Francis, is perhaps, an antidote to this disease of the soul. The famous Prayer of St Francis which is below, poignantly and beautifully reveals something about the soul of St Francis and moreover about the soul of the Christian who by Grace realises that the chief failing and wound he bears is the sickness of self-love, the ultimate false idol, and impediment to God and that it is from this sickness that every other sin flows. When the ego is in the driving seat of the spiritual life, rather than God, it is all too easy to fall victim to its illusions. The prayer also reveals something about the nature of God, whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Our Lord reveals that the nature of God is humble, merciful, loving, selfless and unfailing and inexhaustible in generosity. If God wants us to worship Him, it isn't because He is vain, but because He alone is God and He alone is worthy of our worship and adoration. Not only that, but He knows that the only thing that can make us happy is to adore, worship and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him in the next. For it was for this that we were created and formed by Him in our mother's wombs.

Self-obsession, interestingly, is the spirit of the age. Self-obsession is actually promoted by the media as a cause in its own right. Whether it is found in the cult of celebrity we read about in the papers every day, or in adverts on TV promoting every new kind of anti-aging enrichment enhancer or new fashion in clothing and lifestyle, the self is promoted as the ideal. This is one of the great problems with movements that promote homosexuality because they elevate the self and sexual identity to such a level of importance that sexual identity becomes a new and misguided idol. In the face of our own ego and in the face of a world that says that ego is good, the Prayer of St Francis is very refreshing...

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

What Blessed St Francis was saying was, "Lord, I empty my entire self out before You. Fill me with Yourself and use me as You wish." The prayer is centred entirely on God and the needs of his neighbour. Francis himself is no longer the focus of his attention but his focus is firmly on God and Man. It is almost as if the Saint has forgotten about himself and his needs entirely and is truly a 'man for others'. In laying down his own life, he found it. In forgetting himself, he remembered God constantly. In serving the needs of others and forgetting his own, he found inexpressible joy. His only sorrow was when contemplating the wounds of Christ and seeing his own failings in living the Gospel as expressed through the Cross and said as did St Paul, "We preach Christ Crucified."

The Prayer of St Francis shines out as a beacon to the World and overturns all of the World's preoccupations with self-glorification, obsession and destuction. It expresses beautifully what His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI describes as "God's Revolution", and it is more profound and wonderous than any revolution in history because it is the revolution of the self, the overturning of the self, the destruction of the tyranny of the self, to be replaced by the fulfilment of every human heart's deepest desire, to know, love and serve God and to be happy with Him in Heaven for all eternity. Every other revolution in history has failed, but God's Revolution brings true and lasting freedom to man, freedom from the tyranny of self. I also find it is a very good guide to an Examination of Conscience, because due to my own excessive self-love, too often, I am the focus of all my attention while God and the needs of my distressed neighbour can't get a look in!

The inordinate desire to be loved, the inordinate desire to be consoled and the inordinate desire to be understood are all symptoms of the narcissistic personality type. In this fallen world these desires are natural and understandable, yet Our Blessed Lord and His Blessed St Francis show us that as we know from our human experiences time and time again, these desires do not bring us peace, they do not bring us liberation and they do not bring us freedom. True freedom, as St Paul says, comes from being able to say boldly but with humility, "It is not I who now live, but Christ who lives in me."

St Francis of Assisi, pray for us

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