Light in the Darkness
By Sr Rose Rolling
He will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts.1 Cor. 4-5.
My former workplace, before I entered the Order, encouraged its staff members to undergo unconscious bias training, a rather contentious initiative which has seen its rise and fall. We are a generation preoccupied with causation: we want to know why people act, or think, the way they do; why it is they are poor, or cruel, or Christian. There is faith in the existence of a reasonable explanation, and explanation induces empathy. We know that there is more to understanding a person than meets the eye.
I didn’t attend the training, and whatever you think about such initiatives, one principle we can all agree on – and one that is highlighted
in today’s reading – is that the heart is full of secrets: secret intentions, motivations and desires, secret not just from others but from our very selves, secrets which exert significant power on our psyche. We can make a moral judgment about actions, but we cannot judge hearts. We live our lives in shadow, and this realisation calls us not to be complacent about our own state and to be merciful regarding others. We do not cast premature judgement for we await the ultimate revelation of our inner state; in the meantime, we pray with the Psalmist: from hidden faults acquit me (Psalm 19:12).
One of the consequences of this hiddenness of heart is self-deception, which is one of the most common but stifling hindrances to reaching full maturity. Yet this is where we hit another stumbling block: while psychology can point us to the problem, it cannot offer the whole solution, for although the problem lies within us, the answer does not. Growth requires the gradual illumination, the revelation, of our layers of self-deception through self-knowledge. St Teresa of Avila, the great master of the inner life, counselled her nuns that “self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should like you never to relax your cultivation of it”.
But how do we cultivate self-knowledge? We must first accept our need for the grace and truth of Christ, the light of the world, and it is only when we first come to know the Father through him that we will be able to know ourselves. We come to know Christ, and ourselves, most intimately through prayer and through reading the Scriptures, and whatever dark secrets in our hearts surface from these encounters, mercy awaits us in the Sacrament of Confession. So, as we journey towards Christmas, let us let us imitate the wise men in seeking Christ and come to enter his presence through the door of self-knowledge, confident that His light will illumine our darkness.