Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, April 21, 2018

About a year ago I got the bright idea to pray to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and ask him to help me recognize my faults.

You see, after almost 30 years of marriage, I had given sufficient attention to my wife’s faults, so it was, I reasoned, time to move on to more fertile pastures.

Her flaws – and I hope she doesn’t mind my revealing this top-secret information – included the usual assortment of character defects, from impatience to impertinence, all of which were generally directed at me.

Anyway, back to my struggle up the steep and narrow path to sanctity. I figured it was time to grow. Over the years, I had helped my wife and daughters gain a greater appreciation of their imperfections, even if they didn’t agree with my assessments, and now it was my turn.

Needless to say, once I started praying, the Holy Spirit did not disappoint, even though there have been countless occasions when I wish he’d ignored my request. The long and the short of it is that this has been a very humbling spiritual process.

Is recognizing you’re a wretch a sign of spiritual growth? If so, I’m well on the road to recovery, despite those many nights when I lie awake and stare at the bedroom ceiling, wondering how I could ever be so nasty, so duplicitous, so insensitive, so downright … human.

To a certain extent, I’ve always thought human imperfection was beneath me. It was for others. I, on the other hand, possessed the ability to detect their flaws and ignore my own. You can’t see the picture if you’re in the frame.

Ever since the day I asked for the grace to see myself as I really am and to recognize those things that distance me from God, I’ve been rewarded with an overabundance of insights. It comes down to this: I have enough imperfections to inspire an entirely new canon of Shakespearean plays, jam-packed with hubris of every kind.

You see, the Holy Spirit has been very generous with the graces and insights he provides. When I least expect it, I find myself suffering from an eye-opening epiphany. On many occasions, I’ve been tempted to plead with him to lay off me for a few months and give me a break.

I guess you could say I’m getting what I prayed for. (As they say, be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.)

Self-knowledge is never pleasant, especially if you’re one of those people who think they never do anything wrong, which is most of humanity.

Sad to say, I made it to middle age without ever TRULY realizing how inherently flawed I was, and yet the Spirit has given me the presence of mind to realize that despite my shortcomings, God loves me, which is a basic truth I never really appreciated before.

Each morning I pray for spiritual insight, and every night when I wake up at 3 a.m., almost like clockwork, the events of my day seems to pass before me in slow motion review. I see it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.

There was the afternoon I spent gossiping with co-workers, criticizing people I knew, along with people I never even met. There was the morning I blew up at my daughter for something inconsequential. Did she neglect to cap the toothpaste again, did she leave hair in the sink, did she use my laptop and let the battery die? Then there were those occasions when it was easier to utter a profanity than count to 10 and hold my temper.

The list is sometimes painfully long, and so many of my failings are revealed in three-dimensional detail. The little lies, the big pride, the impatience, the nastiness, the naughtiness. Most of these sins were things I once ignored; I certainly didn’t consider them roadblocks between God and me, but now, I know better.

Even though I’ve been tempted to tell the Spirit I’ve had enough – and encourage him to pick on my wife and four daughters for a change – he gives me the strength to endure these revelations with equanimity, while reminding me despite it all, God loves me.

At the same time, every time I’m knocked off my high horse, I keep getting up and trying again. I’m more humble than I was in the days when I thought I was a perfect man, and I’ve become less judgmental of the people around me and more tolerant of their flaws.

Heck, I got what I prayed for. In fact, I got a lot more than I prayed for. Even though it’s hard to walk up that steep and narrow path Jesus talked about, there’s really no other way, is there?

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