Burning of Self

Many noble, good, and graced persons in the world (not just Christians) burn inside for the injustices perpetrated by human beings against others. When we have a sense of our own fault, it can lead to conversion, confession, and renewal. When we take that too far, we indulge in scruples, a sort of stealth narcissism (I mean that seriously.) in which we’ve become the center of a sinful universe rather than a graced piece of a much broader place inhabited by God.

Let me confess upfront: I do not understand self-immolation. I know disciples of Eastern religions practice it in extreme situations, but I think there are more profound ways to sacrifice and to offer one’s life as an offering for the pervasive injustice in the world. We continue to burn inside, and in cooperating with God, we can allow that flame to be refined to a steely passion for others.

When I read of Rev Charles Moore committing suicide by hydrocarbon-assisted combustion, I felt more sad than inspired. Definitely not inspired.

It’s a delicious irony for his detractors on several fronts:

  • He was an elderly man, and in our culture, the elderly are too often dismissed because of the association of mental impairment.
  • The catalyst was gasoline, a product of shameless hydrocarbon extraction, and an element in many of the injustices perpetrated in the world. It’s almost like a Palestinian committing suicide by a weapon used by the Israeli army.
  • Fifty years of service, and there’s not one more child to be tutored, one more marriage to be counseled, one more letter to write, one more protest to make, or one more apprentice to inspire by life’s example?

From his suicide note:

I have no significant achievements to offer from that period so that my influence on contemporary issues might have a significant impact, so I am laying down my life here today, in order to call attention to issues of great human concern.

We don’t always get to make the impact we would want to have. We don’t make that call, and as a Christian minister, Rev Moore should darn well have known that. It’s not about us. And when it gets to be about us, and about us wanting (with admittedly good intentions) to make a difference, then we have indulged in one of the great sins of our age. Narcissism.

This is a sad end to an otherwise noble life.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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