Can We Save Ourselves?

In today’s world, it seems like everyone is trying their best to just get by (with everything). If there is any effort being made, it is all about the quantifiable successes, achievements, or benefits. Too many people are leery about other people’s goodness and willingness to go the extra miles for their neighbors or other people. We talk much about love and care, but when it comes time for action, not many are willing to volunteer. People talk much and give a lot of ideas in focus or feedback groups, but when it comes time for application, many expect other people, the government, an agency, or the Church to carry out what was talked about. They get angry and frustrated when they do not see the desired results, blaming others, but how many are willing to personally invest and carry thoughts into actions? And that is just on the basic social level! When it comes to spiritual matters, it seems like no one wants to seek holiness anymore because the excuse would be, “I’m not a bad person! I make mistakes here and there… I might not be Mother Teresa, but I am not Hitler either.”

We simply think that we are good enough to get by. We think that we know enough to get what we want or how to get our life together. If we just read more, study more, work harder, or whatever “more” is needed, then everything will be alright! In the age of human empowerment, it seems like individual liberty, freedom, and capacity are more focused and more important than what the general population actually needs. It is very easy to fall into the perennial problem of constant complains of common problems, but when something is public property or communal matter, nobody seems has the time to get to it or really care about anything other than their benefits.

Religious or spiritual matters are only there — to exist — to inspire and support the people in their daily endeavors, future desires, or life goals. Christ becomes an enlightened model of generous actions, inspiring us with His words and actions to become a better version of ourselves. People dislike to be lectured or disciplined; therefore, the version of God that they like is the one that simply inspires and motivates. There is no longer a need for salvation or redemption because we are inherently good and cannot do any major wrongdoings, just small mistakes. Even if one makes a mistake, we cannot judge them because we do not know them nor their subjective reasonings. We, then, become free to do whatever we want because we have the ability to define ourselves. It is up to us to realize ourselves to whatever we think is our fullest capacity, as long as we feel good and are satisfied with ourselves.

Instead of really understand who we are deep from within, we rather let ourselves be defined by what we can be or have drawn up for ourselves. We are the beginning and the end, the (individualistic) criterion and the standard of judgment for all things in this world. We do not care about the holistic understanding of who we are, created in God’s image and likeness, called to live in communion with Him and one another. In a very confused and ambiguous way, we have said that it is we who actually save and define ourselves and not the Lord. We no longer need the Savior because we have the ability to change and save the world with our social progress, technological advancements, scientific knowledge, and political ability to work together. While it is still a work in progress (and that is why we still make common mistakes and have mishaps now), we have a certain hope that will be better in the future. Hence, in this humanistic and secularistic vision, identification, and progression of the world, God is never really needed in the formula…except for the uneducated and superstitious!

It is very easy for us to make an excuse and justify ourselves as people who are better than others so that we do not need to follow what the “sheep” are doing. We think that we are better because we are more educated than the rest of the world, more superior, and more in control of our lives than those “poor people who have little to nothing.” It is very easy to think that as long as we have everything in order, we can depend on technology, social advances, continue to work for progress instead of blind religiosity.  The obvious question for modern people who are in control would then be: “What can your ‘God’ do for me that I can’t do by myself with hard works?” Therefore, faith is boiled down to benefits, becomes self-centered, and transactional. Since everything is based on a calculative, practical, and quantifiable amount of goods, hedonism naturally becomes the standard. The Divine, then, is there only to assist us to maximize our potentials. Deities are only there to inspire, motivate, or assist us in getting us where we need or want to be! Everything boils down to the transactional basis.

However, we often forget that when we treat everything that way, everyone — including ourselves — becomes objectified and opened to be used by all. There is no more real respect and preservation of the dignity of the person. Everyone can be used for everyone has a price! The body becomes cheapened as a physical canvas for creativity, as an exchange, for anything that we want to experiment or experience. We can see around us a steady rise of more long-term, clinical depression, suicides, behavioral problems, addictions, and the likes, yet we do not want to address nor talk about them. We rather give names and identify them, or at least treat them with medications in order to silence the hurting pains deep from within, but we do not want to accept these exterior destructive or dependent behaviors as signs of our soul and its spirit calling out for help. We perhaps have forgotten that the Founding Fathers even recognized our God-given dignity in our very own Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We cannot be treated as objects to be experimented or exchanged. We will continue to destroy ourselves and our society if we do not recognize our independence from the destructive powers of many hidden, anonymous, trendy, and influential voices. In order to truly find our independence from the falsehoods and lies of this world that wants to control and manipulate us, we have to learn to depend on God.

Like St. Peter who began to drown when he lost focus on the Lord, we will also drown in our own self-created despairs when we lose focus on Him. (cf. Matthew 14:22-33) The real truth is that we cannot save our own self! We have seen that throughout our own human history. Many civilizations rose and fell, many revolutions came and go, many leaders took power and got ran out, yet the People of God continues to exist. Are all the members of the Church perfect? The answer would be no! We are still in need of grace. Through many changes in the world, the Church continues to be the most consistent and caring sign of His presence in this world. Even with the rotten apples from within, the Lord continues to raise up holy men and women to reform and call people back to the truth.

I grew up in a communist-socialist country and also had seen what an uncheck democratic society can do. I have learned and studied many political systems and have lived through a few. I have witnessed different types of leaders and their revolutionaries. Yet, at the end of the day, I cannot find anything else that could truly and consistently lead me to something holistically substantial and truly sustainable. Honestly speaking, nothing in this world has ever satisfied my soul nor show me the depth that my soul is yearning for! The satisfactions are too short lived and the talking points are ever-changing. Many people talk like they understand or know everything; yet, if you really listen to them, they really do not know what they are talking about, except trying to appeal to people in order to get support for what they want to portray or sell. We are not meant to just get by or do whatever we want. We were meant for someone greater! We are created in love for love, hence we can only begin to love when we lift our hearts up to God and allow His love to transform us.

We cannot save ourselves for we are too confused by many lesser goods and appealing voices that lead to nowhere, so we have to lift up our hearts to the Lord and allow His love to change us. All of the saviors who came to promise revolutions and changes had turned out insufficient, all the things that this world promised to make us happy also ended up empty. We need the Savior! It is He who taught us the true lesson of love by the dying of our own self and to embrace the Cross out of love for love. It is He who can set us free through His own kenosis (self-emptying) to live like us in all things but sin, to suffer and died for us, rose again and sent the Holy Spirit upon us as to guide us. We are given the Spirit of true freedom that is grounded in love, not of fears, manipulation, objectification, or calculation, as children of our Heavenly Father. We have been redeemed by Christ, and through the power and working of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into Him each and every single day as to call out to God, “Abba, Father!” (cf. Galatians 4:6)

We are not alone nor ever meant to be alone. Therefore, we cannot just live for ourselves or save just only ourselves. We cannot use other people or treat them as objects for our own gains or personal needs because all of us are loved by Him. Many people asked why am I a Catholic and a priest even though there are so many imperfections and hurt in the Church? For me, I only have one reason, one love, for one person: JESUS CHRIST.

I have gone through a lot in my own life. I had lived for myself and turned to many alternatives; at the end of the day, nothing satisfies except His love. I know that I am too broken, too weak, too selfish, too anxious, too worried, and too human to save my own self and others. I need Him! Therefore, I desire and choose Christ and put my trust in Him. I hope you will be able to do the same as well. I would like to end this reflection with St. Teresa of Avila’s own words:

“Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you.
He who possesses God, lacks nothing.
Let nothing trouble you. Let nothing frighten you.
Only God satisfies.”