08/02/2012 07:01 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Serving Others is its Own Reward


My father, freshly arrived from Maryland, sat in his hotel room placing batteries into a flashlight as diligently as a boot camp recruit loading a rifle under a drill sergeant's stare. Assured there would be light, he twizzled with companion gizmos he'd just bought: jumper cables, crampons, a full-blown roadside emergency kit.

"There," he said, finally satisfied, "now you'll be safe." I had not, until that moment, felt endangered. I am a middle-aged man with decades of university education and professional training behind me. I've lived in Montreal for years, and know its winters well. I am also a Catholic priest.

Let us just say I know Who to call for help.

But this man is my father and, on checking into the hotel, he sensed a blizzard in the air. The ink was barely dry on the guest register before we were on our way to Canadian Tire to make sure I had everything I needed to drive and survive in the coming storm.

Was he just being a busybody? Violating "personal boundaries" by interfering in my adult autonomy? Some modern psychologists might say so. They, unfortunately, would be aping the late 19th century's self-declared "psychologist" and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who preached the futility of being concerned with the care and comfort of other human beings.

Nietzsche's creed came down to the declaration that "there is no God, no afterlife, and therefore man is completely on his own." His outlook on life can be summarized as "maximize earthly enjoyment at whatever the cost because that's all there is." Pope Benedict XVI has masterfully summarized Nietzsche's approach as offering only: "a narrow this-worldliness -- with the will to get the most out of the world and what life has to offer now, to seek heaven here and to be uninhibited by any scruples while doing so."

For anyone who has bought into this vision of life, the driving force will be an ideology of power and domination. Such intangible values as generosity and mercy will most likely be scorned. We don't need to scale the lofty heights of German philosophy to see the damage done by this belief system. We encounter it in our daily lives, for example at work when we hear the boss who barks, "Serving others is its own reward."