Word Magazine March 1987 Page 16
“BE A LITTLE BIT SELFISH”
Homily By Father James C. Meena
From the time we were children, we were taught never to be selfish. We teach this to our children also. “Don’t be selfish”. “Share”. This is a good teaching. It is necessary for us to be unselfish if we are going to have a good relationship with people but I want to talk about the other side of the matter.
I think it is sometimes necessary for us to be just a little bit selfish. In a religiously – oriented society in which unselfishness is a very important part of morality, the emphasis on unselfishness can reach the point where we begin feeling guilty whenever we put ourselves first even to the smallest degree. Every once in awhile I come to the realization that it is necessary, even essential to our survival, to our physical and mental health that we be a little bit selfish.
Now I would like to distinguish between being a little bit selfish and being so self-centered that we never think of anyone else. There are times when it is necessary for me to put me first. I see no reason for me to feel guilty when I find it necessary to do this so long as I am not depriving others. Even the greatest monastics have a little bit of selfishness. They shut themselves in cloistered monasteries and even there, in the seclusion in their own communities, with their own brothers or sisters who are sharing the religious life, it becomes necessary for them to withdraw into the seclusion of their cells in order that they might pray and find an inner peace by communing with God. That takes a little bit of selfishness.
Whenever Jesus felt that He was being pressed in by His ministry, whenever He felt that preaching the Good News and ministering to the multitudes who followed after Him was becoming a little bit burdensome, He did not hesitate to withdraw, together with the twelve, and to go to a private place to rest and pray in order that they might refresh themselves so that they might be of greater value to the people to whom they were ministering. That takes a little bit of selfishness.
Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. That used to be a one-way idea for me. It meant that I had to love my neighbor before I loved myself but I found that that isn’t necessarily true. Before I can respect you I must have self-respect. Before I can value you I have to have some sense of my own value. And before I can hold you in esteem I must have a good image of myself. That takes a little bit of selfishness. Now when my self-esteem becomes so blown out of proportion that my ego takes over and I no longer esteem you, when I value myself so highly that I hold no one else in value, when I am so self-centered that I cannot respect anyone else, then I’m guilty of that kind of selfishness which is destructive and nonproductive. What I am saying and what I want to emphasize is that before I can be reasonably unselfish with you, I have to be a little bit selfish with myself. Sometimes I must put me first if I’m going to serve you better.
I talk to you about this degree of selfishness, because I think maybe some of you have not been selfish enough in some areas and too selfish in others. You have been too selfish about working hard to put money away to send your children to school. While that’s a good objective and a necessary one, when it robs you of those necessary moments in which you can grow into a more God-worthy person, then that selfishness is self-centered indeed. Some of us are so selfish, that we spend all of our evenings “blowing” our time like a spend-thrift blows his money, rather than being a little bit selfish to the degree that we can set aside those necessary moments for prayer and study and quiet growth. The practice of transcendental meditation, as it has been obscured in today’s concepts, is originally a Christian concept. Thirteen hundred years ago, the Fathers of the Church developed the practice of meditation. . . taking time everyday to grow.
If you’re not that selfish then maybe you’re too selfish, because if in being a little bit selfish you can make yourself spiritually a better person, then that is the kind of unselfishness that God calls for. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. If you can’t love yourself, you can’t possibly love your neighbor. And if you are created in God’s image and you cannot love and esteem yourself, how can you love God?