Spirituality for Today – January 2013 – Volume 17, Issue 6

Making A Better Self Requires Determined Effort

By Rev. Msgr.Frank Wissel

An old man, with keen insight, once said, "I have had more trouble with myself than with any other person I have ever met."

A black and white photo of an old wooden door

Most of us, if we are honest, would say the same thing. The things we try to accomplish are hindered more by our own laziness, incompetence or selfishness than by anything else. We start going to school, and somehow along the way, we realize that our most difficult subject is not math, or science or history. It is ourselves.

We go into business. And the passing days reveal that our biggest challenge is not the economy or the competition. It is ourselves.

We get married amid the congratulations of our friends. It is a festive and joyful occasion.

But we soon discover that, while getting married is easy, making a success of marriage is another matter.

There are financial problems, social problems, in-law problems. All kinds of problems must be overcome in the making of a successful marriage. But the biggest problem of all is ourselves.

There is a Gospel reading in which Jesus dealt with this truth. He was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time.

Along the way, someone asked him: "Lord, are they few in number who are to be saved?" It would be helpful if we knew who posed that question. But no identity is provided, so the best we can do is speculate.

My guess is that it was a man who saw himself as one of the chosen few. He was already "saved"— whatever that means. And now his interest in salvation took on global dimensions. He was concerned about what was going to happen to the rest of humanity.

Who else would be saved other than himself? Would there be many, or few?

Jesus made no attempt to satisfy this man's casual curiosity about the destiny of the world.

In fact, his answer seemed to have no direct connection with the question. He simply told the man to strive to enter through the narrow door, and to do it now. Otherwise, he may discover some day that it is too late.

The door of opportunity will be shut. It cannot be reopened. In effect, Jesus told this man to mind his own business and to come to grips with his own life. He would, no doubt, tell you and me the same.

Our main business is not saving the world. It is making something decent and useful out of our own lives. You and I have any number of qualities with which we can afford to be quite generous. Genuine sympathy, for example. Let us give as much of that to other people as we possibly can. It would be very difficult for us to be overly generous with genuine sympathy.

We can do the same with real friendship. You and I are not likely to be too friendly or to have too many friends. The same is true with wisely distributed money. We can give and keep on giving. I doubt that any of us is in danger of giving ourselves into poverty.

But our sense of responsibility is another matter. We have a large supply of that. We would be wise to use the major portion of it on ourselves.

To do this will require some determined effort. Jesus made it plain that we must strive to enter the narrow gate. It is fairly easy for us to have a vague sentimental interest in the world. It is much more difficult to take charge of our own lives and make something worthwhile out of them. This is why we are more eager to change others than we are to change ourselves. It is not easy to grapple with our own souls.

Jesus once spoke of a man who was trying to get the speck out of his neighbor's eye. But he did not notice the plank in his own eye.

We call him a counterfeit reformer. He is eager to change others, but not to recognize any need for change in his own life. The tempter is very resourceful in this regard.

If he cannot spoil a life in one way, he will do it in another. Some he ruins by their selfishness.

They will think of no one but themselves.

Jesus pictured a person knocking on a door, but unable to gain entrance. The door was locked, and it could not be unlocked. That is a grim image, but it is very real.

When we are young, all of life's doors seem to be open. We can do or become almost anything. No dream is beyond possibility. But with the passing of time, we become familiar with the sound of closing doors. The range of our choices narrows down, and we realize there are some things we can no longer do. It is too late. We cannot spend more time with our small children. They are now grown and live in another city. That door is closed. We cannot visit our terminally ill friend. He is dead now. That door is closed.

But there are many things that we can do. We can ask the forgiveness of someone we have hurt. We can tell and show our living friends that we love them. We can spend less time complaining and more time being grateful. We can break the habit of criticism and cultivate the habit of praise. We can give roses to people while they are alive, and not wait until they are dead.

The possibilities of life are bountiful and wonderful at almost any age. But to take advantage of them, we need to mind our own business. We need to grapple with our own souls. And we need to start now.