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Sorry, world — narcissism is not a virtue, but humility is

Fr. Joseph Eddy. Go to Fr. JosephFifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 10, 2013

Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M.

It was announced in 2010 that Narcissism would for the first time be removed from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This was a surprise to many even within the psychological community. Narcissism can be defined as a disorder which causes a person to fixate on oneself, one’s ideas, and one’s works. In general, it is characterized by a need for constant attention.

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To be sure, many psychologists still believe that this is a legitimate disorder, which can and should be treated. But even if Narcissism is no longer seen as a psychological disorder, it is and will always be recognized as a sin in Christian circles. Pride or self-centeredness is in fact the root of all sin and the Original Sin of our first parents who desired to become “gods.”

Humility sees truth

We have two examples in today’s readings of the opposite of pride, or humility. Humility is simply the recognition of the truth about oneself. We all possess a blessedness based on our being created in the “Image of God,” but we also often act in ways which are opposed to God or sinful. The humble person recognizes and modestly admits his gifts, talents, and/or virtues. These people are able to honestly evaluate themselves according to God’s law. They realize that God is love and no sin or lack of love is found within Him. We, however, have concupiscence or a tendency toward sin. Proverbs 24 says, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again….” This is a “righteous man” so we all must sin at least seven times a day. It is just being honest to admit this.

Isaiah in the first reading recognizes his own sin in the presence of God by saying, “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” To come face to face with God is frightening for Isaiah, because he is a sinful man. Sin is a lack of love and radically opposed to the God of love. Lucky for Isaiah, God is able to “purge” his sin through the use of a hot “ember.”

St. Peter sees his sinfulness

In the Gospel, we also see the humble contrite heart of the Apostle Peter, a man destined to be the first Pope. In this passage, however, Peter is still a simple fisherman. Jesus performs an amazing miracle by giving him an overflow of fish. Peter is less concerned with the fish, but more with his own unworthiness in the sight of God. He gets down on his knees and begs Jesus to “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Is Peter any greater a sinner than the rest of us? No, but he was humble enough to recognize who he was and who he was not. This virtue of humility will help St. Peter later when he will deny Jesus three times and then “pick himself back up” humbly seeking forgiveness.

As St. Augustine famously said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” Both Isaiah and St. Peter were entrusted with great responsibility despite their unworthiness. They became holy not because they were perfect, but because they were humble enough to know their sinfulness and ask for forgiveness and grace to overcome themselves.

I’m OK, you’re OK

We live in a world where there is no longer anything psychologically wrong with being obsessed with oneself. Yet we as Christians still realize that God is the source of all our goodness. He created us in His Image proclaiming us to be “good.” However, in truth we do choose at times to act contrary to Love. Those who are worthy of eternal life are able to humbly recognize their selfishness and seek forgiveness. They are always welcomed back by the God of Love and given the grace to do great things for His Glory!

Read all of the homilies of Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M.

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