Are we capable of seeing ourselves as we truly are?
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Matthew 7:1)
Sitting in the enclosed brick courtyard in front of our home prayerfully pondering those words on Monday morning, I clearly heard the Lord say: “Stop judging yourself.” That’s odd, I thought, because while judging others is something I regularly confess to a priest, it suddenly occurred to me that I rarely consider the effect of the harsh judgments with which I habitually assail myself. I then wondered how many of our self-judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies, and how the unloving measure with which we measure ourselves might actually keep us stuck in patterns of sin.
An hour later, I walked into nine o’clock Mass quite late, and the first words I heard Fr. Mark speak as I entered the church were “we must stop judging ourselves”—not exactly the homily one would expect to hear regarding Jesus’ teaching on judgment.
“Okay, Lord, I’m getting the memo,” I prayed.
Following Mass, I settled into a chair in the adoration chapel to pray and ponder some of Elizabeth Scalia’s new book, Little Sins Mean a Lot. My eyes almost popped out of my head as I read her words in Chapter 9, entitled “Clinging to Our Narratives Beyond Their Usefulness,” which said:
Self-denigration stops being healthy and starts becoming sinful when it serves to create a despicable or pitiable narrative that we then cling to, and eventually allow to utterly ensnare us in characterizations that we can no longer control or amend.
Now, I was really getting the message.
How many of us live with a familiar narrative of self-condemnation playing in our heads wherein we judge ourselves with words like: Stupid! Worthless! Reject! Freak! Unlovable! Hopeless! Fat! Ugly! Lazy! (Or fill in your own favorite personal insult)? How many of us stay stuck in a perpetual loop of self-rejection that not only erects a wall that prevents us from receiving God’s love, but also keeps us from rightly loving others and ourselves? How many of our judgments of others are really projections of our own self-hatred that keep us locked into a pitiful measure of participation in the one reality in which God longs for us to share, which is love?
Pope Francis’ homily on Monday’s Gospel challenged us to look into the mirror when we are tempted to judge. He said:
If you judge others constantly, with the same measure you shall be judged. The Lord therefore asks us to look in the mirror: Look in the mirror, but not to put on makeup to hide the wrinkles. No, no, no, that’s not the advice! Look in the mirror to look at yourself as you are. Pope Francis, Homily of June 20, 2016
I believe the pope’s words were right on, but they also beg another question. Are we capable of seeing ourselves as we truly are when we look in the mirror: as broken sinners who are redeemed and infinitely loved by a merciful Father who sees us as not as worthless rejects but as precious, beloved children? Or are our mirrors cracked, warped and foggy, hampering our ability to see as God sees?
You are precious in my eyes and glorious…You shall be called by called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord. You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall men call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” but you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” For the Lord delights in you. (Isaiah 43:4, 62:2-4)
There is a tension in the dual reality that we are redeemed sinners, mercified prodigals, glorified messes—as well as in the fact that the more we trust God’s love for us, the less prone we are to rejecting both ourselves and others. Letting go of our own disordered self-judgments may be the very act of virtue that enables us to stop judging others, just as experiencing God’s love and mercy makes us more capable of extending love and mercy to others.
Let us pray that the Lord will remove the logs from our eyes and enlighten the “eyes of (our) hearts” (Eph. 1:18) that we may see as he sees and, consequently, love as he loves.