In Greek mythology, we find the rather tragic figure of Narcissus. As the story goes, he is an extraordinary young man in every possible way, but he is aloof and rather full of himself. Anyone who falls in love with him pays a steep price because he will not love them back. Eventually, while hunting, Narcissus stoops down to the water to get a drink. He sees his own reflection and falls madly in love with it. He reaches out to grab the reflection and drowns, suffering the abysmal fate others who tried to love him did. In psychology, narcissism is described as "selfishness, involving a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, as characterizing a personality type." My brothers and sisters, does this word not describe our society "to a T"?
Narcissism arises out of several converging storms: First, the self-centeredness of the individual as almighty. Reality and morality are subjectivistic and only are there to confirm the feelings of the narcissist. Second, with no empathy, the means justify the ends for the narcissist. The narcissist simply makes pronouncements without care as to how it affects others and only cares about how he or she is affected. Third, while the narcissist is free to judge and condemn the actions and words of others AND presume the absolute worst in other people's motivations, he or she will see any judgment and condemnation of their actions as defamation of character, to which they will respond with great vengeance. Fourth, the sense of absolute entitlement endemic of narcissism, stretches to the insane. Every word and action must be to the benefit of that narcissist. No demand is too unreasonable and any failure to provide is seen as a personal attack.
Certainly, within our society, we see narcissism run amuck. Social media has laced this stick of dynamite. We now are seeing a wholesale rejection of any objective truth; consequently, there cannot be a God who judges. The new mantra of society is, "It is okay to terrorize anyone we want, as long as we feel justified in our actions." According to this logic, we should be able to despoil whoever we want if our feelings tell us it's okay. It has even gotten to the point where some are demanding the acceptance of pedophilia as a mere sexual orientation, using the familiar path of others who want universal acceptance of their choices. For our narcissistic society, all things must be remade in the narcissist's image: Entertainment, sports, law, and morality must be adjusted so that the narcissist's predilections are approved at worst and ignored at best.
Even within our Church we see narcissism in several ways. We have seen it in how Mass went from a transcendent focus to a place where the transcendent is ignored. This is not anything asked for by Vatican II or present in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. We see it in the constant push to revise the sexual moral teachings of the Church to be as accommodating and permissive as society, in everything from homosexuality to artificial birth control to transgenderism, and so on. The Church just becomes another place where the mirror of narcissism can be held and only able to see its world visage. So much of the financial and sexual scandal, ensuing cover-up, and regular abuse of power finds its roots in a narcissism that allows the preying on of the flock to satiate one's needs. The reach of narcissism in our society and Church is wide.
The antidote to narcissism is the very essence of God: love. Specifically, divine love (agape) is what is needed. In agape, we completely empty ourselves for the good of others. We allow ourselves, as St. Paul says, to be poured out as a libation. Love forces us to look beyond ourselves and weigh how our actions and words affect our relationships with God and each other. Love leads us to humility, a frank honesty which allows us to avoid demanding that the world convert to suit us, but instead enables us to convert to suit Christ. Because love is a theological virtue, it needs that constant relationship with God to thrive. It is no wonder that the more narcissism has grown in our society, the shorter our confession lines have become and the less we see of people at Mass. We need that sacramental presence in our lives to bolster our immunity to the constant virus-like ferocity of narcissism.
For if we love as God loves, the abuse of our neighbor is no longer justifiable. If we love as God loves, our own wants no longer become our focus. If we love as God loves, we can no longer justify our harm and sin inflicted on others. I am asking you dear reader to have what I call a "Darth Vader moment." I am referring to the scene in Return of the Jedi where the emperor is killing Luke for his unwillingness to convert to the dark side. In that scene, Darth Vader keeps looking at the begging face of his son and the evil cackling face of the emperor ... he is making a choice. He can either go with the status quo and allow his son to die, or lose everything, including his life, and kill the emperor (or so we thought). I am asking you to look at the Cross of Christ and then look at the fury we see in the media day after day. Choose between the great love displayed on the Cross and the insatiable fury of narcissism. We can't have both. Choose wisely, for the Cross of Christ is the path to heaven and the fury of narcissism is the superhighway to hell.