Image credit: Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan via Wikimedia Commons
Below is a brief and well-known selection of C.S. Lewis’ sermon, The Weight of Glory. The sermon was preached in 1941 at University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. One will note that in highlighting the virtue of love, Lewis does not object to either desire or its gratification, but to their poor discoveries. Desire’s dissatisfaction arises out of love’s misdirections: in our unwillingness to see above the horizon of the present, the refusal to regard God’s gifts above our disoriented cravings—in our confirmed and confused self-love. The narcissist, then, is eventually disappointed.
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philosophical importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of rewards and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity, and the Church, ed. Lesley Walmsley (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000), 96.