Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In the Gospel passage of today from St. Matthew (22: 34-40), a Pharisee who was a legal scholar asked Jesus which command was the greatest. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22: 37-40).
Many people, when looking at Jesus’ answer, make the mistake of only focusing on the love of God and love of neighbor. They ignore the third part of the commandment – the love of self. I call Jesus’ response to the Pharisee, the “Triple Love Commandment.”
And although all of us are called to love ourselves, for God made each of us in his image, there are often things that work against this love. That is what happened to a man named John Brubaker.
So, before looking at this important and often neglected part of the Triple Love Commandment, let’s look at John’s story that first appeared in a magazine called Entrepreneur. John refers to himself as a “recovering workaholic” like his father before him, and this is his story.
John was a college coach, and he found that coaches are much like entrepreneurs. They often find themselves working in jobs that consume a large amount of their lives, and often they find themselves working seven days a week, days and nights. Frequently, John found himself sleeping in his office at night to get ahead in his field. Though his devotion and attention to his team produced good results for the team initially, eventually it hurt the team in the long term.
John justified his workaholic schedule as just an occupational hazard. He was in denial that his work habits were a problem until his girlfriend now-wife invited him to go on a vacation to Colorado in 1999. John told her that he was too busy. When she asked him when was the last time he took a vacation, he couldn’t answer, because it had been twelve years. She convinced him to go with her.
On the vacation, John and his girlfriend did camping and river rafting. They had no cell phones, and he got no email. He was completely disconnected from work for five days, and he felt his head was about to explode. Like addicts who withdraw from drugs, he was totally miserable.
As soon as John got back to work, he immediately went into his workaholic mode. Three years later, his team made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association – NCAA – Final Four. This made John believe that what he was doing was working, and that if he worked even harder, his team would win the national championship.
Then, on June 14, 2004, the athletic director walked into his office and said, “The only thing keeping us from winning a national championship if you, so I’m making a change. We’re buying out the remainder of your contract.” Then, the boss gave John a pink slip and walked out of the office. John was fired – on his birthday.
This was John’s “bottom” so to speak. It was a giant wake-up call. Like other workaholics, his obsessive work habits were causing him to become burned out, stressed, and affecting his physical and mental health.
Fortunately, through the Twelve-Step way of spirituality, John is in recovery. He discovered that “less is more.” In other words, to be truly successful, one has to take time off to keep one’s emotional, physical, and fiscal fitness at a peak. The same can be said for one’s spiritual life, for if one can’t take care of one’s self, one can’t take care of others. We hear the same message every time we board an airplane and the flight attendant explains that in case the plane loses pressure, the adult needs to place the mask on himself or herself before putting the mask on the child for which they are caring.
So, what can we learn from this third part of the Triple Love Command? Here are three points.
First, we are to love our neighbors in the same way we love our selves. Needless to say, Jesus assumed, in his Triple Love Command, that we love ourselves. And to love ourselves means that we take care of ourselves as children of God.
Second, there are often obstacles that get in the way of people loving themselves. Some things that can destroy self-esteem include poverty, racism, prejudice, and discrimination. Or, people may not care for themselves because of addictions to things such as gambling, alcohol and other mind-altering drugs, eating disorders, hoarding, materialism, scrupulosity, and others.
Third, though almost nobody choses to have diseases such as addictions, everyone is responsible for getting treatment for illnesses they may have. Today, as never before in history, we have wonderful treatments for things that may be working against accepting self as a worthwhile human being.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to examine our lives. Are there any things than prevent us from love of self? What are we doing to knock down those things?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: John Brubaker. “Advice From a Recovering Workaholic: Make a Shift to
‘Less is More.’” Entrepreneur, 31 December 2014.