Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Knowing Your Bad

Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that part of the reason why some kids are cute is because they do not know they are cute. But once they do know that they are cute, they become brats!

There is a spiritual law that bears much similarity to the cuteness factor of children. It goes something like this: The more one sins, the less one knows that he is a sinner. Try correcting a narcissist; you'll see. On the other hand, the holier one becomes, the less he knows it. It's the easiest thing in the world to correct a Saint.

It’s funny. The Saints believed themselves to be the biggest sinners, but yet, they were good men and women...really good! From the sound of some of them one might get the impression that they were insincere when they said how bad they were. St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, would often declare himself the greatest of sinners to his friars. Perhaps, he took his cue from St. Paul who said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15) How is it that the Saints came to these this conclusion?

At the very least, there seems to be an air of false humility with these self-deprecating statements. After all, they had to know that they were good; especially when so many people flocked around them because of their holiness. The question is: Did they not know that they possessed some goodness or some virtue? Answer: Certainly they did! They were quite capable of seeing God’s goodness even in themselves.

But here is the crux of the spiritual law: When a soul opens itself to God, His light shines upon the good and the bad with greater intensity. As for the former, the Saint, no doubt, sees the good but does not take credit for it. Whether it be a virtue, skill or knowledge attained, it ultimately can be traced back to God’s goodness. They see it as a gift from their Creator.

Perhaps, this is why celebrities have such a hard time being happy. How many casualties has Hollywood produced? As one documentary put it, Hollywood has created just as many casualties (i.e. celebrities who either burned out or lost their lives prematurely) as stars. Why is this? Because “stars” are surrounded by yes-men; that is, they have an entourage of people telling them how great they are. And to add insult to injury, the celebrities end up believing it. They take credit for too much.

As for the bad in us, one of the greatest gifts of drawing closer towards Christ- in addition to getting to know Him better –is self-knowledge. With grace, there is light; and with light, the brutal facts about the self are exposed. Once exposed, however, the Lord gives us the strength to struggle against ourselves; to take on those shortcomings and vices that make us imperfect and unhappy. Indeed, to conquer self is the greatest of all conquests. Still, with divine grace flowing through the soul, the sinner knows that he has not yet arrived. He has more work to do.

In prayer, therefore, finding fault with the self in the presence of God is liberating! This way, when others find fault with us or accuse us of some misdeed (justly or unjustly), we are that much "less" likely to lose our peace and be defensive. As the abbot, St. Dorotheus, once said:

“The man who finds fault with himself accepts all things cheerfully – misfortune, loss, disgrace, dishonor and any other kind of adversity. He believes that he is deserving of all these things and nothing can disturb him. No one could be more at peace than this man…[T]he reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, it that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.”