We don’t often hear very often about self-denial in our world. Often because everyone is just a bit too busy with self-service (not in the sense of a store check-out!). Our society has become so absorbed in ourselves that it doesn’t see the need to deny anything for anyone because our individualistic society doesn’t value any denial to or of the “I”. “The moral law commands us to make the highest possible good in a world, the final object of all our conduct” – Paul Ricœur
This self-absorption may be a generalization but we have few examples of selflessness in our world today; the shining examples seem so few. The reason for this is that it doesn’t sell products. Consumerism requires a degree of selfishness. There are less obvious ones though. Men and women around us who selflessly give of their time and talent to others; family, friends, neighbourhoods. But the society around us does not necessarily promote this sort of living as more than a component of a course at school, perhaps a part of the catechism programme during the year.
However, it is possible to find self-denial. It is a life-style in a greater sense. It may be in small ways or in larger actions like providing constant care for a loved one, or soldiers defending a country for lengthy tours of duty. We are called into the world as a witness. Actions as well as words. “Light up the pathways of the earth with faith and love” – St Josemaria Escriva
Self-denial is a crucial aspect of living with ourselves and others. If we don’t teach the children about sharing and self-giving, of self-denial, then our society becomes so self-absorbed that a meanness creeps over it and reduces us to be only citizen-consumers consuming for ourselves only. We need to care for others, even the ones we don’t particularly like. If we don’t we become spiritually poor. “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you” said Jesus.
When we embrace the idea of giving, and not just from our largesse, but from a denying to ourselves something we would like, then we step beyond ourselves. The “other”, a person other than ourselves becomes vital to our own lives. Advent and Lent are appropriate times to reinforce or to instil in us this loving trait of self-denial. When offered through humility, it can make enormous improvements to our wellbeing and that of the community around us and draws us ever closer to the Way we are taught to follow as Believers.