When we come to the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 31, 2016) the Scripture Readings challenge us to the core of our being. The lectionary readings for Sunday are in a three year cycle. Here e reflections from the 18th Sunday from 3 and 6 years ago.
Unmasking the Idols July 31, 2013
Three years ago, on the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I posted Home-made Self: God-made Self to provide a Thomas Keating perspective on the challenging line from St. Paul's letter to the Colossians 3: "Put to death, then the parts of you that are earthly…" For this Sunday (August 4th) the focus shifts from the psychological to environmental factors involved in idol making. These are identified in Elizabeth Scalia's Strange Gods: Unmasking Idols in Everyday Life. She summarizes in this interview:
"We may still have idols residing outside of ourselves — if we allow our things, our possessions and creations to stand between us and God, and to essentially own us — but we are very adept at burnishing the godlings of the mind, the ideas and opinions and beliefs formed interiorly. These are petted and loved and fed, and they grow directly in proportion to how much we indulge them, until they become the object of our enthrallment and the entity we serve. If our ideology, for instance, has become an idol, then we nourish it by reading only what suits our point of view; we speak and gather with only those who think as we think; we visit websites that echo our thoughts back to us, until we lose sight of anything beyond it — even the humanity of the one who does not conform to our beliefs. We begin to serve the idol of the idea, alone."
This book will be a good read. There is something here to challenge both liberals and conservatives. Even without reading it, we can ask ourselves about the extent to which our chosen causes turn into idols and control our lives.
Home-made Self: God-made Self July 30, 2010
Thomas Keating's concept of the "homemade self" points to a flaw that underlies the challenge presented by all three scripture readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation, Fr. Keating describes the development of the "home-made self." (Most often called the "false self.") When we are little we mature in an environment that is somewhat hostile - in spite of the best efforts of our parents. We develop coping mechanisms that provide us with happiness and satisfy three energy centers or needs:
- Safety and Security
- Esteem and Affection
- Power and Control
We develop a set of routines and behaviors that satisfy these needs. Keating calls these routines "Programs for Happiness." One might, for example, think that gathering all the information and developing a good plan will insure safety and control needs. As long as this works, it is fine and one might see one's self as a successful planner. A problem arises when one cannot get enough information or the situation is rapidly changing. One possible response is to obsessively seek more information, losing sight of responsibilities in many other areas of one's life. Many kinds of self destructive behaviors can follow in an attempt to compensate. This obsessive seeking of information is part of the "home-made self." Through this process a legitimate attempt to meed basic needs evolves in to a set of character defects.
If we can detach from our defects, turning them over to the care of God, we will find that our whole selves are much larger and more capable of achieving happiness. The energy that was part of the homemade self will still be present, but can be more productive.
So we can ask: Is Paul being too harsh when he urges the Colossians to "Put to death the parts of you that are earthly..." If the "homemade self" has parts of it that are destructive or even self defeating, I think not. We need to recognize that the "home-made self" can lead us to a number of disordered attachment - work, possessions, control, money, etc. There is hope. After putting that part of the homemade self to death we can "...put on the new self, which is being renewed ... in the image of its creator." The new self - the God-made self - will contain all of the strengths of the homemade self, plus hidden strengths and the freedom to use them.