We Must Die To the Self, So We Can Love The Other As They Deserve

We Must Die To the Self, So We Can Love The Other As They Deserve February 23, 2011

Abba John [the Eunuch] said, ‘Our Father, Abba Anthony, said he had never put his own personal advantage before the good of a brother.’[1]

If we want to be Christ’s friends, we must be people of love. We are not told this story of St Anthony the Great in order to be shown how great a saint he was, even if this saying does so, but rather, to show the kind of example he set for us all who want to by Christ’s friends. What he accomplished, we all can accomplish, and if call ourselves Christians, we should want to do so. Living out our life in loving service to the other is the way we show we have become Christ’s friends:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you(John 15:12-14).

We might not be expected to literally lay down our life for others, but we are called to work for their good, even if it comes at a cost to us. Christ is not telling us that our love is manifest only if we die for someone else. Rather, he is telling us that we must overcome ourselves, we must die to the self, and we must do so out love and not some nihilistic hatred for the self. We give ourselves to the other, knowing we are giving them something good. We must respect the good God has placed in our lives, so that what we then give can be and will be appreciated by the one who receives our gift of self to them.

As we spiritually develop, we will become people more concerned about others than ourselves. We must learn how think of their needs. In doing so, we will be helping ourselves become the people we are meant to be (initially we might realize this, but as we grow, the less we should even consider this, and just act for the sake of what is right and good). When we come across someone in need, we should want to do what we can to help them, turning our attention to their need even if it means our own desires end up being unfulfilled. True love will be concerned about the well-being of the other. One who loves will act out of that love, and they will act without pondering the consequences of their actions for themselves.

This kind of love is difficult to attain in the best social circumstances. In a capitalist society, such love can only be had by one who has become counter-cultural. Capitalism encourages people to help themselves. It teaches us that one’s successes or failures in life are dependent upon one’s private choices. We are told that we must accept the consequences of our actions. Good intentions, even good moral actions, if they lead us to our own personal ruin should be ignored. Those who give of themselves for the other, without considering their own needs, will be neglected, if not ridiculed. “What did you think you were doing, helping someone else, if you can’t help yourself?” And yet, this means, even if we do not physically die, even if we are not literally killed for the other, our life is affected in such a way that we die, die to the self, for them, showing full well that we love them and will do anything necessary for their good. We show we are their friend – and thereby, we show we are one of Christ’s friends as well.


[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 105.


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  • “In a capitalist society, such love can only be had by one who has become counter-cultural.”

    That right there is the call to Catholics. I will tell you that this culture not only has people fighting against their own needs but it also has many resisting our love. Then there is this line:

    “Those who give of themselves for the other, without considering their own needs, will be neglected, if not ridiculed. “What did you think you were doing, helping someone else, if you can’t help yourself?”

    If you commit as you are called, you will hear this and many far worse things, but that is called sacrifice, and in my mind that is what we must emulate from our Lord. There is no greater love.

    • Right; capitalism is all about what one can get for the self, the Lord is about giving the gift of the self to the other. Capitalism will let the people who follow Christ go down and be discarded. We should look at the criticism given to monasticism by capitalistic societies – it becomes evident what is going on!