Self-centeredness, egoism, and pride are quite possibly the most difficult of all spiritual weeds to yank out by the root. Self-centeredness has led to wars, violence, and all host of social evils. In recent centuries, it has led to a direct assault on truth itself. The philosophy on the Enlightenment was constructed around the ego-centric maxim, "I think, therefore, I am," as if the surest proof of existence was one's own consciousness of it. This idea, pervasive in today's society, is to blame for the Dictatorship of Relativism repeatedly condemned by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI.
The reach of self-centeredness, though, does not end with its philosophical failures. It creates in us a cult of the ego, wherein we worship ourselves as our last end. Logically, we begin to ask what all other things are in relation to ourselves. Initially fine, this might eventually become, "how does this woman please me? Does the attention she gives me satisfy me or should I find a new trophy?" Self-centeredness follows a brief trip down a short road to individual utilitarianism and objectification of others.
Ultimately, this line of thinking leads us to think of our lives as worth living only so long as we are satisfied by the people and objects around us. We find ourselves increasingly unhappy, since, let's face it, nothing ever entirely satisfies us. We shift from one thing to another trying to find fulfillment and happiness, but we instead find disappointment. This is all due to the fact that we ask the wrong question. Instead of asking, "will this satisfy me?," we should ask, "for what purpose do I exist?" The self-centered question assumes that my purpose is my own self, that I am my own last end, that is, it assumes a self-centered foundation. The other question, however, is humble: it assumes the opposite, namely, that my purpose, my end, relies entirely on something external to myself: "For what purpose do I exist? What is God's will for my life? What is God's will for me this moment?"
Now THAT's a Fiat Man way of asking the question!
If you find yourself unsatisfied in life or struggling with the temptation to objectify others, you might consider whether your philosophy is leading you to ask the wrong questions.
All this has come to mind because of the somewhat shocking news that Fr. Corapi will be quitting the priesthood. The following comments should not in any way be misconstrued as an attack on Fr. Corapi. Far be it from me to find personal fault in a man whose soul I cannot see. I'm blind enough when viewing my own soul! However, to judge the apparent situation is an entirely different matter.
Fr. Corapi has done an immense amount of good for many people, but he has always been a lightning rod. Sometimes it is necessary to be a lightning rod. However, the way he handled recent allegations did raise some concerns in my mind as well as the minds of similar thinkers (I find myself agreeing with 99% of what Mark Shea has to say, so you can see his comments on Fr. Corapi). Fr. Corapi, I fear, may have seen himself as the center, the end, of his ministry. Instead of quietly submitting to investigation, he raised his thundering voice against his accuser and investigators. Now he has decided to quit the priesthood and create a new ministry, which, by all accounts, is centered around himself. I hope that I am misunderstanding. I hope that this is all some misunderstanding, but it bears saying: I am a theology teacher. There is a strong temptation at times to tell myself that I must boost my own persona in order to bring Christ to my students. If only I was a better speaker, more popular, etc., then they would want to listen. There is, of course, some degree of truth in that temptation (as in any temptation), but here is the danger: if you find that you are replacing Christ in your ministry, you've wandered into dangerous territory. If you stand as the lofty representative of Christ, rather than as a humble sign merely pointing to Him, then when you fall (and you will fall, in some way), your disciples will follow you in your fall or will lose faith in you (and Christ). As catechists, we must always be careful to relate ourselves to our disciples only enough to introduce them to Christ, so that they may then begin to know Him more and more directly. Like St. John the Baptist, we will bring them to ourselves in order to send them to Christ and say, "behold, the Lamb of God, He must increase, and I must decrease." If you find this difficult to say, then you need to pray for humility!
Priests, no more cults of personality! Catechists, no more cults of personality! This is not a right or left, conservative or liberal, orthodox or heterodox issue. This is an issue of pride, Satan's attempt to invert the apostolic life and turn it on it's head, all for the sake of false concerns for making more disciples. We can only make disciples for Christ if we lead them to Christ, not if we lead them to ourselves!
PS - When I wrote this, I was intending to use the Fr. Corapi situation as a jumping-board to the more general topic of self-centeredness. I don't have any reason to think Fr. Corapi himself was self-centered, although I think his actions lend themselves to that interpretation. I'd like to add that, having read his statement directly, his thoughts seem to be the kind of thing many people would think in these circumstances, but most would not write. He shows righteous indignation (assuming his innocence) and certainly it is true that the system is flawed and frequently abused. Still, quitting without fighting the charges, fighting to defend his priesthood, in order to maintain his public work seems misguided. I cannot say, though, that in his shoes, knowing my pride, I would have done differently. That does not, however, mean that his approach is the way to go. I might have done the same, but I would have found it foolish aft thinking about it. I stand with him in saying that the system needs amending, and understanding his righteous anger, but I have to say that he's going the wrong direction with this.