Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Several months ago, while I was sharing a cab with a corporate executive I’d known for many years, the conversation went from the deplorable state of the economy to the deplorable state of Congress to the deplorable state of New York City traffic to the details of our lives, which were probably equally deplorable.

This ambitious man, who had enjoyed an enormous amount of success and wealth, got somewhat pensive and started to have what I call an "obituary moment" – those occasions when we assess our lives and try to see ourselves as others do, usually unsuccessfully.

"I know," he concluded, "I’ve lived a good life. I haven’t hurt anyone. I’ve always tried to do the right thing, and I hope I’ll be rewarded for it someday."

As he spoke, I nodded sympathetically even though I was actually thinking, "This is insane. This guy is one of the most despicable human beings I’ve ever met. He’s ruined the careers of people who got in his way; he was motivated by nothing but greed and self-aggrandizement; he worked his staff to the bone; and he paid them as little as possible." It was a long list, and I struggled to think of something positive.

Then, I went from virtual shock at his self-revelations to absolute fear that I’m probably living under the same kind of self-delusion.

"Could I also be that dumb about who I am and what people think of me?" I wondered.

The more I thought about it, the more I knew I didn’t want to reach the momentous occasion we call "death," float out of my physical body and through that dark tunnel and into the light, where I’d be met by all-loving beings for my life review – only to watch that celestial video of my life and come to the conclusion much too late: "Geez, I dropped the ball. I messed up. I thought I was getting an ‘A’ and I got a ‘D.’"

Clearly, I needed some spiritual guidance, so I went right to the Source and began praying to the Holy Spirit for self-enlightenment, for a performance evaluation, you might say. I’ll spare you the horrid details, but what I’ve learned after much daily prayer is this: I’m not as good as I thought I was, but … I’m not as bad as I thought I was.

My flaws are many and my virtues are few, and when I do something good, it’s often for a selfish reason – so I can get praise or a reward or people will think I’m a great guy.

Since I started asking for the grace of self-enlightenment – to see myself as God sees me – my perspective has changed, and it’s often humbling.

When I’m reviewing the day’s events in the quiet of night, all my hypocrisy and self-deceit is unmasked, and I plead, "Lord, save me," just as Peter did when he tried to walk on the water and ended up sinking into the cold, dark waves until Jesus grabbed his hand.

I started going to confession regularly, but the sad thing is, I keep repeating the same sins. Talk about lack of progress. (I’m not ready for my performance evaluation just yet.) In addition, I began praying that the executive in the cab will be given insights into his life the way Ebenezer Scrooge was, so he can learn the truth while there’s still time to change.

The good news, though, is this: I began to understand in a small way that Jesus knows everything about us – the good, the bad and the ugly – and loves us unconditionally despite the selfishness, greed, lust, pride, impatience and anger. He loves me even when I hate myself.

At the end of the day, I sometimes think, "This is hopeless. I’m the same person I was when I was 19." Nevertheless, I keep trying and asking for help, and in really desperate moments, I pray, "God, may I do your will even when I’m failing."

When I was in midtown Manhattan recently, I went to the rectory at St. Agnes Church to buy a Mass card for a friend who had died. I started talking to the woman in the office about life and death, and she said, "We’re lucky that Jesus is doing the judging."

She was right. I wouldn’t want to be doing the judging – although I seldom miss an opportunity – because he knows what’s in our hearts despite our failed attempts, but most of all because he’s merciful.

Even though I condemned that executive in the cab, Jesus has a different view, I’m sure, and he prefers mercy to justice. In the end, I guess we’re all not as good as we think – or as bad.

 

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.