In 2014, I’m reading and blogging through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus. Every Monday, I’ll be writing about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.
I’m pulling out a longer quote from Open Mind, Faithful Heart this week because I at least should probably hang this one over my bed or something.
In our sinful human heart, as well as in our mysterious clinging to the realm that Paul calls “the law” (cf. Rom 7:13), there exists a secret sector that we guard with special zeal. It is our hidden shame; it is the wound with which we torture ourselves; it is the fear that makes us adhere to law’s domain; it is our attachment to death as a way to ward off the life that threatens us; it is so many other things. Each of us knows where in our hearts that zone is located, and often we find ourselves seeking refuge there. We see that space as our private domain, and we believe that only we need see it. Nevertheless, the vision we have of our inner heart is tenuous and myopic. Only the brightness of Jesus’ judgment can provide the light we need to correct the distortions of our vision and judgement… We are blind and by ourselves we are incapable of envisioning salvation. By holding on to our impotence, we try to keep hidden that shadowy sector of our hearts; not wanting to be saved, we end up becoming ever blinder until our hearts are hopelessly hardened.
When I was in fifth grade or so, kids tended to bully me a little on the bus, and I didn’t tell anyone. I reasoned that, currently, their behavior was only making me sad, but, that if I told someone else, like a parent or a teacher or a friend, that new person would also be sad, but probably wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. So, as I saw it, the chance to fix the problem wasn’t on the table. My only choices were to make other people unhappy or to keep the inconvenience private and, in my own way, put limits on the bullies’ power to harm anyone by limiting their effects to me, alone.
I’m not sure, in that specific circumstance, that I was wrong, but I certainly, by default, tend to hold my cards a little too close to the chest. I don’t like upsetting other people, especially because it means I suddenly have two problems: my original one, and the new problem of cheering up the friend who is more upset that the situation warrants. After all, most of the people around me aren’t (recovering) Stoics, so, if I tell them something bad happened to be or that I’m having a strained relationship with a friend or that I’ve hurt someone, they tend to have a strong, emotional reaction at the injustice of it all.
In contrast, I’m quick to try to figure out what practical action I can take, and, if none is available, to treat the problem as though it were as implacable and natural as a sudden downpour when I’m without an umbrella. I’m going to get wet; I can only decide whether or not to be grumpy about it.
But my friends have something right, when it doesn’t occur to them to become placidly resigned to the world. Some injustices may be outside my locus of control, but, if I treat them as statically unresolvable, I’m acting like Javert again. Javert makes the world small, a place of law, not mercy, because he knows how to live up to the law. I can harden my heart by only longing for the things I can control and achieve by my own efforts. If I treat everything I don’t know how to fix and unfixable, I’m lowering my eyes from the beatific vision, and losing sight of the star that should be guiding me.
It can feel practical to just stop minding the things I can’t address, but I need to remain sensitive, so I can be open to new graces and opportunities to change. Instead of just accepting the little shadowy parts of myself and trying to figure out how to work around them, I have to expose them to light, so they can be healed, instead of compensated for.
Bonus: Reportedly, the musical First Date wasn’t very good, but this song is pretty good, well performed, and on point for this post.