The Story of Me! - (Inferno Meditation 3)

Each one of us continually creates a story or movie in our head, "The Story of Me". Everything we experience goes into this story and builds into a grand narrative that begins with our birth in the mythic past before we can remember, and continues to grow each day. To add to our story, we categorize and collect supporting characters and props for our epic tale: the quirky neighbor, the crazy best friend, the pets, the gadgets, the hobbies and interests, all the little things that show us to be a unique and special person destined for great success, or at least a great tragedy if things don't go as planned.

However, despite the fact that there are approximately 6 billion such stories going on throughout the world today, there is not as much diversity among them as one may expect. For example, we all imagine ourselves as the main character in our own story. It never occurs to us that we may really be a small bit actor on the stage. Maybe we're the crazy best friend or the weird neighbor and the real hero is someone else entirely. Christian theology gives a name to this universal feeling that we are at the center of the story; it is called Pride and invariably tops the list of the seven deadly sins.

This being the case, it shouldn't surprise us that the people in Hell are eaten up with Pride. They all continue to view the story of the world as their story, and assume that everything revolves around them. When Dante encounters the shade of Francesca in the circle of the Lustful, she says to him:

“O living creature, gracious and so kind,
Coming through this black air to visit us,
Us, who in death the globe incarnadined,”
Inferno, Canto V, lines 88-90

Her assumption is that Dante has come to Hell specifically to visit her and hear her story. Again in the circle of the heretics, he encounters Cavalcante who hails him and exclaims:

“...‘If thy grand art has made thee free
To walk at large in this blind prison of pain,
Where is my son? why comes he not with thee?’”
Inferno, Canto X, lines 58-60

Cavalcante belives that Dante's art, poetry, has won some contest and the prize is a trip to Hell. Immediately, Cavalcante is incensed that his son Guido is not with Dante. "After all," he thinks, "isn't my son at least as good a poet as you? Why isn't he here to visit his old man?"

Finally we see Pope Nicholas III in the circle of Fraud who declares:

“‘…Why then, what doest thou ask of me?

Art so concerned to know my name, thou’st leapt
These barriers just for that? Then truly know
That the Great Mantle once my shoulders wrapped.’”
Inferno, Canto XIX, lines 66-69

Once again, he believes that they have come a long way just to jump the barriers and talk to him.

Each and every sinner in Hell is morbidly self-absorbed and can't turn their thoughts from those who have wronged them and those whom they blame for their situations. This self-absorption is the epitome of all sins, because it breaks both of the Great Commandments; it puts self before God, and it puts self before others.

The Biblical antidote for such Pride is true Humility, which, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, "is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." The solution to the self-absorption of Pride is to surrender your position as the hero in your own story. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3). When we learn to joyfully accept the part of supporting character and to consider and treat others as the protagonists of the story, when we become more ready to listen to the story of others than to tell our own, when we would rather serve than be served, only then will we truly reflect the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5), something the people of Dante's Hell are incapable of doing.

Comments

Rose said…
This really got me. I'm still in a state of 'ouch gosh did you really have to do that??' to say anything terribly coherent other than:

-it's true, which I love it for

-it's true about me, which I don't love it for
Rick said…
Dante hurts. At least in the Inferno. We have to have our sins laid bare in Hell before we can repent of them and receive forgiveness in Purgatory and participate in the life of God in Paradise. (Allegorically speaking of course. I'm not a Catholic so I don't believe in Purgatory.)

And this particular lesson from Dante strikes hard at all of us, myself especially. As Father Tim says in the book "At Home in Mitford", "Mainstream Christianity glosses over the fact that it isn't just a question of giving up sin, but of doing something far more difficult—giving up our right to ourselves."