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  • Writer's pictureKirsten Zerr

Self-Love: A Catholic Perspective

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

I've been super hesitant to post this. I wrote this perspective months ago, but couldn't hit "publish." Why? Well, I know many people who follow me are not Catholic. In fact, most of my clients are not Catholic. All my clients know I'm Catholic, but I've never been open about my Catholic faith on social media or on my website. Although, I suppose one could gather that I'm Catholic based on my business' name: Totus Wellness...we Catholics love Latin.

I've been holding on to three fears: (1) I don't want to "offend" anybody with my Catholic faith. (2) I was afraid that if non-Catholics knew I was Catholic, they wouldn't follow me anymore...that Christian women whom I know I could minister, wouldn't want my advice. (3) When I use language like "Our Lady" I'm afraid people will call me an idolator, without understanding what we actually believe about Our Lady...and why.

But I can't deny that the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to be more open about my Catholic faith, and the only thing holding me back is fear. Fear does not come from God, but the enemy. And those fears? Well, those were the same fears I had before making my business faith-based. The enemy loves to use fear to hold you back, but God prevails. I have absolutely no regrets about making my business Christ focused. It has yielded nothing but good fruit. Also, I've never had a single client become upset about my Catholic faith. I don't shove Catholicism down anybody's throats. So, I suppose if someone wanted to make a quick judgement based solely on my faith, then I wasn't meant to help them.

This experience was deeply spiritual. I thought about leaving the "Catholic" parts out so more people could relate....but, it felt like a lie. I've prayed about whether or not I should post this...prayer has done nothing but convince me that I should. So here is the whole truth of what happened...leaving nothing out. I hope the Holy Spirit can touch your heart, regardless of your denomination.

Here is the original blog, as I originally felt called to write it:

I've been wrestling with the idea of self-love lately. I listened to an excerpt from The Imitation of Christ: "For the exterior enemy is more quickly overcome if the inner man is not laid waste. There is no more troublesome, no worse enemy of the soul than you yourself, if you are not in harmony with the spirit. It is absolutely necessary that you conceive a true contempt for yourself if you wish to be victorious over flesh and blood."

This utterly confused me. I fully believe we are called to practice self-love. When I was furthest from Jesus, I hated myself the most. As I grew closer to Jesus, I began to love myself. Am I delusional? Am I being tricked by the enemy? In my confusion, I point blank asked God, "Am I supposed to love or hate myself?"

His answer? "Love me first, so that all love you have for yourself is divorced of pride and comes purely from Me, rooted in humility."

I heard it, but I was still a bit confused. "Soooo should I not conceive contempt for myself? How does this make sense? Love and contempt seem opposite." I wanted a clear answer.

So, I did what I always do when I am looking for answers from God. I went to adoration...a place where I've always felt the greatest peace and clarity as I adore Christ in the Eucharist. Suddenly, a great wave of anxiety overtook me. I prayed for the anxiety to go away. It calmed down, and God gave me a vision as clear as day: Like an out of body experience, I could see myself praying to God - eyes glued to Jesus. Behind me, was Mary praying to God for me. I could see Satan trying to attack me from every angle, but Mary's prayers kept him at bay. He could not get to me. There I knelt, blissfully unaware of what was happening behind me. Her prayers allowed me to keep my eyes on Jesus.

The vision ended. I realized instantly how we desperately need prayer. Ironically, at the same time, God answered another question I had asked Him. I often avoided Mary. I was afraid of committing idolatry. However, I kept hearing stories about the power of Mary's prayers for us. So, I kept asking Jesus a simple question, "If you want me to have a relationship with your mother, show me how."

I was humbled and thankful to God for the vision, but I still wasn't sure how it all fit together. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to love or hate myself. And anyways, what the heck did Mary have to do with self-love? But then, the anxiety came raging back. Now, almost overwhelming...nearly unbearable. It felt like a spiritual attack. It had to be a spiritual attack. I've never felt anything like it. It was excruciating. I could feel my body trembling. But a calm voice told me to keep my eyes fixed on the Eucharist. I thought, "Is this some weird test from God? Is He testing my strength? My obedience? What is going on?" Because of the anxiety I felt, I kept taking my eyes off Jesus. It was taking every fiber of my being to keep my eyes locked on him. Even then, I kept failing. I barely made it through my prayers. "What just happened?" I thought, "I've never experienced such excruciating anxiety during prayer. This had to be a spiritual attack."

I sat down in the pew and the anxiety immediately went away. God was answering my question. He told me, clear as day, "Do you not see how weak you are? It is impossible for you to overcome the enemy on your own. It is impossible for you to keep your eyes on me, on your own. You could barely do it for 15 minutes. Imagine a lifetime of this! Even those who do not believe in me, I protect more than they realize. The enemy would consume you in an instant if it were not for my love. I was still here with you every moment of that anxious experience, yet it was nearly unbearable for you. Imagine the anguish I experienced when I took on the sin of the world."

"I made myself the humblest and lowest of all men, that you might overcome your pride with my humility." Another quote from The Imitation of Christ.

Suddenly, it all became clear. Self-love is when we realize we are hopelessly lost and powerless without Christ. We are nothing without God, yet God loves us so much, He humbled himself more than any man on earth to save us. We did not deserve to be saved, but God saved us anyways. What greater love is there?

This perfect love commands us to submit to humility and obedience, and from there, arises self-love. Without Christ, self-love becomes pride, and pride becomes emptiness. With Christ, love becomes humility and obedience, and humility and obedience become self-love.

Modern self-"love" is really just self-idolatry. Modern self-"love" is pride. It is a worship of self. This kind of "self-love" will lead to heartache, bondage, and emptiness. In fact, this kind of self-love isn't love at all. God is perfect love. Therefore, love cannot be bad. Even self-love (the real kind). However, what people now call love, simply isn't love. It's a distorted version of love, separate of God. It is not is an imposter. A lier. A deceiver. It promises you all the great things only love can bring: security, wholeness, worth, and peace. Yet, you only end up with counterfeit versions of these best.

When I claim to be practicing self-love, but it comes from a place of pride, I have made myself an idol. This is what I should conceive contempt for - the idol of myself. For this is not who God created me to be. It is a rejection of the Imago Dei, and I should hold contempt for every piece of the idol of myself. To reject the Imago Dei is to reject God Himself. We are not called to conceive contempt for ourself as the Imago Dei which God created and declared good. This would only produce shame and a distortion of God's love for us....the fruits of the fall. And oh, how many of us feel this shame. In our poor attempt to dilute this shame apart from God, pride arises. We attempt to become our own savior. Except this is impossible. So when the emptiness comes, we look to the world's version of "self-love" to dilute this emptiness. But it's never enough.

We grasp for more and more of this counterfeit love. If we must be our own savior, then we must be perfect. Being our own savior requires no room for error. Soon, we realize we are far from perfect. Fear and shame set in.

Until you accept that you cannot be your own savior, you will spend the rest of your life desperately failing at saving yourself, and calling it self-love. I cannot think of anything further from self-love than a life like this.

Jesus is perfect so we don't have to be. Jesus is enough so we don't have to be. Jesus is our savior so we don't have to be. What a relief this is. Which is why true self-love is when we conceive contempt for the idol we created of ourself as a product of this shame and pride. This ordered contempt will produce humility and obedience which yields true self-love. We love ourself the most when we love God.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." 2 Corinthians 5:21

I realized the only way to truly practice self-love, and thus receive its gifts, is to submit to Christ in humility and obedience in order to become the woman God created me to be. Our Lady did this perfectly.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." Luke 1:38.

Her "yes" to God showed the ultimate obedience. She practiced perfect self-denial, humility, obedience, and thus, self-love. After her "yes," our savior soon came. I believe God was showing me an example of true self-love, and the fruits that it bears.

To practice this obedience and humility is to practice self-love. God created us in His image and declared us good. Sin distorts this good, and we get a tainted picture of self-love. We believe self-love is doing what makes us "feel good." However, to humbly align our being to God's will is to uphold this truth - it's to love and honor the Imago Dei we were all created to be. In it, you will surely find a security, wholeness, worth, and a peace that makes no sense, that you did not earn, that you did not deserve, but that God has blessed you with because of HIS perfect love.

Love is love. But a love separate of God is not love, no matter what you hear or feel. Satan is the father of lies and deception for a reason. If God is love, what greater way to deceive humanity than to make them forget what real love is? To make them grasp for a love that isn't real, that isn't whole, that isn't complete...that isn't love at all. It is bondage, and so often we fall for it.

I've been asking Our Lady to pray for me, that I may become obedient to God like her. That I may practice TRUE self-love, like her. Unironically, I've been finding it easier to submit my will to the Lord's (although I'll be the first to admit, I still have lots of work to do...thank you God for your mercy and grace). I've been feeling more peace and joy in my day-to-day life, despite the fact that my circumstances do not paint a picture of "peace."

Here I find that "peace that makes no sense" everyone talks about.

What better self-love is this, than when I love my Lord first, as Mary did?

Non nobis Domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.

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