The Advantage of An Outward Focus – Catholic Stand

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Live with an outward focus, making God’s will and others’ needs the targets of your attention. God wants to use each of us for His greater glory where we’re at, now, in the moment. This requires us to look up and out- up to God, and out, for our neighbor.
As I write this, I’ve had time to reflect on four funerals for friends I recently attended over a seven-day period. By the time this piece runs, I expect to have attended one more. Attendance at funerals can bring up a variety of existential questions and ruminations.
For example, our life here on earth is very short, no matter how many decades we may spend here. And it includes a lot of uncertainty. We don’t really know the day or the hour when we’ll be called to give an accounting. (cf. Mt 25:13) What’s the Lord’s will for us? Beyond keeping the Ten Commandments, how should we live in the meantime? And more.
We might find at least part of an answer to such questions by looking at the lives of those friends whose funerals I attended. They didn’t know each other, but they clearly had something in common. They all lived outwardly focused, not inwardly focused, lives. Outward focus allows us to serve our brothers and sisters, be they family or non-family, in works of mercy. It gets us out of ourselves and opens us up to God’s grace, to become spiritually fruitful instruments in His hands.
Inwardly focusing our attention looks at “me, myself and I.” It gets in the way of God’s will. It sets up barriers to His work, not only in us, but through us. When we focus on ourselves, we’re missing out on the graces of the present moment; God can’t use us as a channel of His graces for others.
Jesus tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34)
Consider that phrase, “as I have loved you.” He suffered incredibly for us, dying the ignominious death on the cross for us. In so doing, He set a very high bar for us. The way He lived shows us how to live with an outward focus rather than turning inward on oneself.
Does the thought of loving others as He has loved us cause at least a bit of trepidation? What are we willing to do for our Lord in order to love one another as He has loved us? After all, that’s going to cost us something. Dying to self always does.
So, how attached are we to our will, our stuff, our relationships, and others’ opinions of us? If we’re not careful, the inward focus of our self-love and self-will can kick in, smothering any attempted response to God’s will that’s based on an outward focus.
In fact, self-will may be the greatest barrier to ongoing sanctification in our lives. We need to detach from self-love and self-will, to get free from ourselves so we can be free for God. Then we will be free to do His will, loving others as He has loved us. This may require some changes in perspective on our part, though.
The proper perspective sees all as a gift from God. In Joshua 24, God tells us that all we have comes from Him. Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe prayer reminds of that as well:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me. To You, Lord, I return it. Everything I have is Yours…”
He has given us our time, our natural abilities, our experience and expertise, not to mention physical resources–everything. Are we using His gifts for His greater glory by serving others in the present moment? Or are we somewhat pusillanimous, perhaps burying our talents (cf. Mt 25:18)?
Living with an outward focus opens us up to the graces that the Lord wants to give us, and that He wants others to receive through their interactions with us. (cf. Mt 5:14) Fr. Ivan Monteiro, OCD suggests that, when we live with an outward focus, what we do will live on, in and through others. On the other hand, when we live with an inward focus, what we’ve done dies with us.
In other words, making a lasting difference in this world requires self-renunciation, offering ourselves to God, and responding to His graces magnanimously, to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. God wants to use us for the salvation of souls and for His greater glory. All we have to do is cooperate!
But what, specifically, does this outward focus look like for each of us? Well, as I used to tell my consulting clients, “That depends.” It depends on what the Lord has in mind for each one of us, (His will for us), based on where we’re at on our pilgrimage in this present life.
We each have some particular mission to fulfill for the Kingdom that requires the unique blend of gifts the Lord has provided only to us and to no one else. Gaining an understanding of that mission can take some time.
To get on the path to that understanding, we have to learn to recognize God’s voice. This comes from listening with the ears of our hearts, to borrow a phrase from St. Benedict. We can only do that by engaging in dialogue with Him through mental prayer. Setting and maintaining a daily routine to spend time with Our Lord must be a foundational aspect of our interior lives. As well, talking over our prayerful discernment with a spiritual director and/or confessor will help us come to this understanding.
And in all of this, let’s also take a lesson from Our Lady. After St. Gabriel the Archangel told Mary that she would bear a son and her cousin was already with child,
Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth…And Mary remained with her about three months (Lk 1:39-40, 56).
What an unmistakable example of outward focus for us to learn from and follow!
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you (St. Teresa of Avila).
I love the example of Mary and the Visitation. She had reason to turn inward and rest, but she went out to Elizabeth and stayed for 3 months. A perfect example of outward focus.
Thank you for this wonderful article.
Nice article Dom. I really enjoyed reading it. We are to do everything for
love of God and neighbor. I am glad you quoted Saint Teresa of Avila in your
article. She is one of my favorite Saints. I visited Avila, Spain in 2017 on a
European pilgrimage for the 100th Anniversary of Fatima.
Thanks Dom. Yes, an outward focus nullifies our prideful temptations. Funerals are a wonderful reality check on our progress….or lack there of.
Thanks, Steve – God bless – Dom
Thank you for your article. I believe that the source of our happiness is in serving God and your article is a good reminder of this truth.
Thank you, Richard – God bless you – Dom
Thank you, Dom, for transcending the rubrics of of any religion.
OP, thank you. Not sure I’m totally following you, but thanks for reading and for your comment. – God bless – Dom
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