Father Ronan: On Self-Delusion and Acceptance
A weekly column by the pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown.
I first heard him preach at the Saturday night Masses held on the upper campus at midnight. The hour was very popular for the students and, as a graduate student living near the university, I found my way over from time to time. What first drew me to John was his amazing wit, combined with a powerful intellect and broad learning (this Jesuit was a scholar of English literature). His homilies were captivating.
Once he spoke eloquently on our amazing capacity for self-delusion. Frankly, at the time, I am not certain I realized just how significant his observation was to become in my life. Today, I regularly go back to that truth. It seems to me to be a window into our capacity to recognize the "bigness" of God—God's love, God's forgiveness, God's desire for us to be free.
During Lent especially, the themes of conversion, forgiveness and God's mercy are woven through the readings at Masses and the prayers of these 40 days. But still, many of us have trouble availing ourselves of God's mercy and forgiveness. Consequently, we find it very hard to be forgiving and merciful with others and even with ourselves.
Could it be that this is the case because it is so easy, comfortable and acceptable to delude ourselves? If we take some time to reflect on some of the conflicts in which we have been engaged, we may find that, at times, we have locked on to the rightness of our position, actions and attitudes without honestly recognizing that if not in total error, we may well be contributing to the conflict in a particular way. But we convince ourselves that when a relationship is broken and in some way there is division and disharmony, the problem lays outside of ourselves. Indeed, our capacity for self-delusion is limitless, and because of this we remain bound from the truth that sets us free.
Acknowledging the parts of ourselves that need to be brought out of the shadows in God's marvelous light enables us to move toward acceptance of ourselves and of others and empowers us to heal and grow into our true selves. God knows this! God understands all of our idiosyncrasies, failures and delusions and yet continues to love us, forgive us and beckon us to trust in Him and the goodness that He placed within us.
God is patient—with our pettiness, with our self-deceit and with our fear of exposing that part of ourselves that we find unacceptable. So let us go on, day-to-day, fully experiencing the events of life that challenge, fulfill, bruise, wound, delight and break us, trusting that through all of this, God is ever-present just as he promised, inviting us to go deeper, to the center of Truth where God greets us. The invitation of the Lenten season is to "convert," to turn away from all that keeps us chained toward a new way of thinking and seeing that leads us to dwell in the freedom of the children of God.
Certainly, this "conversion" is a life-long journey, never completed fully while we walk the earth. And that's OK. The opportunity to live in the reality of each moment in awareness of God's gifts to us of life, of love and of forgiveness is always ours for the taking. Seeking to incorporate into each day some moment to reflect on self—searching for those moments of "delusion" that have seasoned the day, one can find the strength to continue the process of conversion.
To look at the journey another way, what if we never search and discover the extent of our self-delusion(s)? Consider how superficial and vacuous our journey would be. In this light, Lent is a gift! This is a special time to stop, look inward in the light of the Gospel and of Grace, to recognize our failings, seek and receive forgiveness and to grow toward that wholeness with God and others that is our destiny.