What Do We Make Of Ourselves?

What Do We Make Of Ourselves? June 11, 2024

The William Blake Archive: The Day of Judgment / Wikimedia Commons

We have a role in our own personal creation: we have been given free will, and through it, we can develop ourselves, establishing our own personal identity. Our actions, and the reasons behind them, are important. They play a significant part in who we are, indeed, they can reveal to others who it is we have become. Obviously, much of our interior life will remain hidden, so what is revealed is partial, but it is enough to give others, and even ourselves, an ability to come to know who we are.

What we do in life matters. We evolve throughout our lives, stopping only when we die. At that point, Christianity teaches we will have a personal encounter with Christ. He will come to us with all of his love, but in and with that love, he will also make a judgment about us and who we have become. That judgment will reveal things we have hidden from ourselves, so that in and through it, we will come to know ourselves. That is, the particular judgment after death will give us a perfect indication who we are based upon what we made of ourselves during our temporal existence. Thus, as Fr. George Maloney explained

It is not that our deeds are extrinsic to us, things we have done as symbols of our life of indifference toward God; and for them we are rewarded our punished. It is more that within our own daily experiences we become our choices. It is true that we inherit many characteristics from our parents. Society can precondition us toward certain values and ways of conduct. But all of these influences are precisely a part of our daily experiences, our actuality or being-in-the-world. It is, therefore, in the human, existential context that we acquire our set of personal characteristics that makes ourselves who or what we are by our daily decisions of lack of decision (which in itself is a decision) to act out of self-forgetting love or self-centered narcissism.[1]

Whether we have opened ourselves up to the world and to God with love, or became self-enclosed and unloving, will be revealed when we come face to face with Christ. But that is not the end of the matter. What is important is our reaction to that revelation, for that will reveal not only what we have become, but what we will allow ourselves to be in eternity. Jesus comes to us with love. If we have established ourselves with a self-centered narcissism, we risk denying that love, because we will be so focused inward and loving only ourselves, we will not reach out to Jesus and accept the love and grace and mercy which he offers us. It is possible we will be shown to be very self-centered and narcissistic, but we will have done things which transcend such narcissism, things which also become a part of who we are, which means, we will have openings within our self-enclosure, so we will not be completely isolated. The judgment will reveal this to us, showing us a hidden dimension of who we are that we might not have even known and realized. We will then have the opportunity to let that part of us grow, to slowly love and love more and more, and in doing so, find ourselves overcoming our selfishness. Grace, of course is necessary here, as it is what will strengthen that love which we have and help it grow;  without it, the little we have would not be enough, and could be easily snuffed out. Thus, if we embrace the love which remains, and let it grow in grace, we will find our judgment, however difficult it is to confront what we have made for ourselves, will prove to be purgative, and as such, help us attain beatitude. We will finally let our selfish, self-centered ego be put to rest, allowing us then to love with the perfection needed to participate in the divine life.

Everyone has a chance to develop themselves, to either open themselves up and thrive in love, or to close in on themselves, and so cut themselves off from divine love and all the glory which it can and will grant. Everyone has been given life and with it the ability to make of themselves as they will. No one is born damned or saved.  “There is not a class of souls sinning by nature and a class of souls acting justly by nature. But both act from choice, since the substance of souls is of one kind and alike in all.” [2] Everyone is given the chance to determine for themselves what they will be in the eschaton.

Christianity promotes the value of choice. Of course, our choices arise in various settings or contexts which influence us and limit what we can do in a particular situation. The more knowledge and personal freedom we have in relation to the choices we make, the more those choices will transform us and influence our own personal evolution.  This is why sins which are considered grave often are not deemed mortal, because the person did not have adequate freedom or knowledge to be fully culpable for their actions. Indeed, people can find themselves in situations where only bad choices exist, and so, must act out of prudence, choosing what they perceive to be the greater good, but also, doing what we can to limit the bad which they do:

When, therefore, no bonds restrain us and no circumstances hinder us, and when advantageous things are placed before us and a choice is offered, we should select what is better. But when some adverse complications stand in the way, and when harmful things are placed before us, we should strive after what is subject to fewer drawbacks. [3]

Or, as St. Isaac the Syrian indicated:

The lesser amount or the harshness of recompence <at the judgment> does not depend only on the quantity and kinds of sins, but for the greater part, on the amount of understanding; perhaps also according to temperaments, <apart from> causes and times. A person is judged more in comparison with secondary matters, by the weight of primary ones. [4]

Thus, it is not just what we do, but what we intend to do with our actions, and how much freedom we actually have to make a choice, which affects the way we develop ourselves and establish ourselves not just in time, but in the eschaton. It is important to recognize, as with all that God does, God comes to us in Jesus to judge us, not because God wants to condemn us, but because God wants to save us from ourselves, from our own self-centered isolation. That is why it is a judgment of love, because it is ultimately based upon God’s desire to free us from that self-isolation, and one of the conditions of that is for us to realize our condition so we can then accept the remedy which God offers. Only those who do not, if any such exist, will find themselves stuck in the hell of their own self.

[1] George A. Maloney, SJ, The Everlasting Now (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1980), 56-7.

[2] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis and Catechesis 1-12. Trans. Leo P. McCauley, SJ and Anthony A Stephenson (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1969), 129 [Catechesis IV].

[3] John Cassian, The Conferences. Trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (New York: Newman Press, 1997), 590 [Seventeenth Conference; Abba Joseph].

[4] St. Isaac of Nineveh, Headings on Spiritual Knowledge (The Second Part, Chapters 1-3). Trans. Sebastian Brock (Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2022), 190 [Chapter 3; Fourth Discourse].


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