‘We live in a narcissistic age.’ This characterisation of our culture and times is having increasing traction. The term ‘narcissism’ comes from the Greek myth about Narcissus, a handsome youth who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Besotted, he gazes into the pool, hour after hour, day after day. Transfixed yet with no hope of his love being reciprocated, he eventually turns into the eponymous flower. Excessive selfishness reveals itself in careless disregard for the welfare of others, a lack of compassion for the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers. ‘Alternative facts,’ better known as ‘lies’, spring from a distorting self-absorption that rejects any truth that might challenge a world-view shaped by self-interest. There are enough features of the current political landscape that justify this damning verdict.
In this context, these words of Jesus confront us as disciples: ‘If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the world and forfeit their life?’
Jesus offers a radically different way of life to the self-obsessed, self-gratifying feature of contemporary culture. ‘Living for others and living for God’ as opposed to ‘living to please ourselves’ is the alternative. Starkly, Jesus claims that the choice is between life and death. For all brash confidence, clever advertising and sweeping claims, consumerism and the selfishness it propagates, result only in fleeting pleasures on the path that leads to our own spiritual demise. Following Jesus in sacrificial, self-giving love brings abundant life for, in serving people and God, we become who God created us to be. Fulfilment and freedom come from paying close attention to Jesus, imitating his compassion for those who are vulnerable and his passion for God.
Lent is a season of preparation for Good Friday and Easter, the Paschal mystery. During these penitential weeks, we seek in our minds and hearts to travel with Jesus the hard road to the Cross. Through embracing the opportunities on offer to renew our spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer and worship, we renew our commitment to Christ and the way of the Cross. Besides giving something up for Lent, whether it is chocolate or alcohol or something else, do think about doing something extra for Lent. You can come to Morning Prayer or try the Churches Together events on Thursday evenings or go to a study group.
Lent begins on Wednesday 1st March, Ash Wednesday. If you come to be Ashed at one of the two Eucharists that day, you will hear this solemn and mysteriously life-affirming imperative: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ.’
As Christians, we are to be distinctive, embracing a counter-culture that is defined by Christ’s white-hot love. Shaped by his faithful love, we are called to proclaim that it is only by being a disciple of Christ that we become the unique person God created us to be. Moreover, we declare that the only way to escape the deadening self-regard is to gaze on the ‘glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’