In the Sunday reading of St. Paul this week, we heard how the proof of love is that we love our neighbor as ourselves.
Many people might be prone to use this passage in justifying their “I am who I am” approach to themselves. This is me! Take me for who I am! The ultimate love of self, therefore, is that we permit ourselves to be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do. After all, that’s “who I am.”
With this approach, the concept of love your neighbor as yourself becomes one of minding your own business. To love my neighbor would be to leave him be, because we would not want any neighbor attempting to question anything about us.
Sadly, many people actually dislike or hate themselves. They do not have a healthy sense of who they really are, their dignity, their self-worth, and their purpose. As a result, they are not able to take responsibility for themselves and their neighbor. They do not like themselves, which makes it impossible to truly love their neighbor.
This, of course, affects those who are dating in hopes of finding love, marriage and happiness. Instead of an ability to connect with someone who can be your equal, your close friend, your partner, there is more of an inclination to seek someone who will accept everything about you without question. Someone who can fill voids in a fragmented and distorted self that should be whole.
Every one of us are broken in some way, and sin daily. That comes with the territory of the human experience. But our fundamental dignity should compel us to desire to become a better person. We fall, but we get up and we ask forgiveness when necessary. We are weak, but God’s grace provides the strength to become who we are called to be.
That call is to be Christ. Baptism has configured us to Christ. We have a divine nature because of our Baptism. And that, fundamentally and truly, is who we are. We are Christ’s. We cannot say “I am who I am.” We must say “I am Christ’s.” That is our dignity. That is who we strive to be. Our unique personhood configured to the Person of Christ.
With this kind of love of self, we can love our neighbor as ourselves as we are called to. We are also able to offer anyone we date, and ultimately the one person we marry, a whole person who knows who they are, why they are here, where they are going, and what they are to do.
God willing, you find someone who also understands their dignity and loves themselves. Then, a couple is able to love each other without losing themselves, but with an openness to share in the person of the other.
When two become one flesh in marriage, it is a union of persons into one person, one life, one purpose; all without losing the individual self. Preserving your individual self is to preserve the person of Christ who is our identity, thus keeping us capable of the impossible; namely, the love of another person in the sacrament of matrimony.
I’m sure many of can look back on dating experiences and recall plenty of examples of people who didn’t love themselves enough to take care of themselves or be open to any changes that would better themselves and their ability to find a suitable partner in marriage. Hopefully, we can also recall times when we, ourselves, betrayed our own dignity by acting in ways that was a real turn off to those we dated.
The betrayal of our dignity, at whatever level and in whatever form it takes, diminishes our outward appeal and our inward life of grace. Thus we become uglier. Our life is a lie, of sorts, and we spend the days trying to fool others into believing we are something we are not.
How can we love our neighbor (or a spouse in marriage) if we cannot love ourselves enough to face Jesus Christ? He is who we are. If we are not Him, then who are we? We could be anything. Any pursuit of being ourselves on our own terms is to be nothing concrete and substantial and meaningful at all. That actually makes us dangerous.
Marriage is about becoming a help mate to another. It requires self-donation to the point of pursuing the other’s good before your own. The love of self is a love of Christ, who lives in us and through us. And His love life is service.
To love yourself is to serve to others. You give yourself away, and as a result, you become yourself. Love serves. Love of neighbor is service to them, not a demand that they accept you for who you are.
During the dating process, you need to see proof that the other loves themselves so much that they desire to give themselves away to you. And they must see the same from you.
If you harbor any dislike or hatred of yourself in any way, you have to seek help from someone who is capable of helping you discover these negatives and work on them. You must discover your self-worth in the light of the person of Jesus Christ. Live His life, a life of service, and by God’s grace you can overcome all problems with self-hatred. Above all, visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament often and talk about this. Ask Him to form you into the whole person He wants you to be. Ask Him to teach you how to love yourself and your neighbor, following His example.
Bring your best self to everyone you date. Your best self will be attentive to the other, while sharing all your faults as well as wonderful qualities, with the issues of your past as well as your efforts for the future. Being your true self that radiates Christ alive in you will be very attractive.
Should you observe a dislike of self in someone you are dating, including any ways they are abusive or harmful to themselves, encourage them that they have a dignity that makes them better than that, and that you would like to see it and share in it. Love them with enough kindness and patience that they trust you with their setbacks. Sometimes, a quality person who hates themself has never encountered an empathetic person. Regardless of whether dating the person leads to marital love, you will have at least helped this person to take a positive step toward self-worth.
Give yourself away in the name of Christ, who IS love, and you will become a vehicle of love to others.