St Francis De sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life said that human happiness does not come from self-centredness, self-absorption or self-obsession but rather from what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:
It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.
What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be!
Sadly the inability to be home with oneself was the first and most fundamental casualty of The Fall. In Today’s First Reading we hear that Adam and Eve sinned. They were not comfortable with who they were. If they were they would never have eaten the apple from the tree that was forbidden. Instead they fell to the temptation ‘eat this fruit and you can be like God.’ In other words they fell to the temptation of ‘being yourself will never be enough’.
As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.
If we want to look for the ideal role model in regards to this we need to look no further than Jesus in today’s Gospel. This particular Gospel shows that he did not have too many people on his side. Even those sympathetic towards him, his family and his friends, thought “he was out of his mind.” They were thinking why would anyone embark on a life that would put you in direct collision with the religious authorities of the time? Those who were hostile to him accused him of calling upon satanic powers in his healing ministry. Yet Jesus was put off by none of this. His self-acceptance gave him the strength to carry out his Father’s will and that was to spread the Good News about the Kingdom of God. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction.
To achieve this kind of self-possession in our lives can be a struggle. At times we can be tempted to think that perhaps we might be happier if we were somebody else. I think St Francis de Sales knew this well when he speaks about perfecting our patience. In other words we need to be patient with ourselves. By being completely at home with himself Jesus shows how self-acceptance can become possible in our own lives. Jesus not only embodies this but at the end of the Gospel he invites others to join him. That invitation is meant for us as well.