Abbey Johnson is a young wife, mother and author. Some of you may have heard of her or seen her interviewed.
Abbey was raised in a Christian family where she was taught to protect the rights of the weak, the poor, and the virtues of volunteerism. So it was only natural that in college she volunteered for a variety of causes, one of which was Planned Parenthood. After graduation she was hired by Planned Parenthood and within a few years was promoted to be the office manager of one of their largest facilities. Abbey felt that she was doing good work in line with her Christian values.
Eventually Abbey became disillusioned with Planned Parenthood and, after a long period of prayer and with the support of other Christians, left her position and became one of the strongest advocates of the pro-life cause, leading protests outside some of the same facilities where she used to work. You can read about it in her autobiography, “Unplanned”. In fact I recommend that you do.
Through God’s grace Abbey Johnson came to understand that what she thought was good, or at least not bad, was incompatible with Christian beliefs. She had fooled herself into thinking that abortion, if not actually good, was still not that bad.
Have you ever fooled yourself? I mean really and truly fooled yourself into believing that something was good, or at least was ‘not that bad’, only to discover, by God’s grace, that you were wrong, so very wrong ?
In Psalm 19, which we just heard, the psalmist pleads with the Lord: “Though your servant is careful of your precepts, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults!”
In other words, “I am doing my best God. I try to follow you but you know me better than I know myself. Cleanse me from the faults I keep hidden, even from myself”.
To fool yourself, to seduce yourself, is a common human experience. I’m no psychiatrist, but it seems that the human mind has an infinite capacity for compartmentalization, for separating and keeping hidden and safe the parts of yourself that you are yet not ready to bring into the light.
Self-deception and compartmentalization is a common theme in conversion stories, even in the lives of our saints. St Theresa of Avila, for instance, though she was a cloistered nun, lived a life of relative comfort and participated in the social life of the town. It wasn’t until she was 40 years old that God’s grace showed her, painfully, that she had been fooling herself. The way of life she thought was good, or at least not that bad, was incompatible with her faith and the vows she had taken.
“Cleanse me from my unknown faults”.
I think our capacity for self-deception is one way of understanding the somewhat obscure and even gruesome sayings of Jesus we heard in today’s Gospel.
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…if your foot causes you to sin cut it off…if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…. ‘ lest it lead you to Gehenna”.
“Gehenna” is the the unquenchable fire reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.
Jesus, who knows the human condition as only our creator can know it, is well aware of the human tendency to compartmentalize, to keep parts of our lives hidden away and protected from the light.
In telling us to cut off and cast away what causes us to sin, Jesus is warning us to break down those compartments, those walls that keep him out of the parts of our life we do not to expose to the light.
My brothers and sisters, what compartments have you built in your selves? What do you keep hidden, safe from the light?
Perhaps it is a hidden resentment, anger or even hatred over a very real wrong done to you. You know you should expose that wound and let Jesus heal it, but through fear, or pride, you are not ready open it up to him. Jesus warns you to pluck that resentment and anger out, lest it lead you to Gehenna, where the fire is never quenched.
Perhaps what you keep hidden is prejudice- perhaps you smile and wave at your neighbor while secretly wishing he would go away and live with his own kind. Perhaps it is a memory of an old sin, something you should repent of but the memory of it gives you a feeling of guilty desire. Maybe what you are trying to keep from the light of Jesus is a thought, a word, or a deed, an attraction to the things of this world. Something secret that we fool ourselves into thinking can be kept secret from the Lord, something that is not exactly good, but that we deceive ourselves into thinking is not that bad. In today’s Gospel Jesus warns you to pluck it out, whatever it is, lest it lead you to Gehenna.
“Cleanse me from my unknown faults”.
Make this your prayer. “Cleanse me from my unknown faults”. Plead with Jesus show you what to cut off, pluck out, and cast off- whatever is causing you to sin. Open those dark chambers to the light of Jesus.
Jesus came to lead us to salvation and, as the head of the Body, pours out the Spirit to nourish and heal us. The light of Christ penetrates to every part of creation. There is no sin he will not forgive, no wound he can not heal. Open yourself, every hidden part of yourself, to that purifying light.
“Though your servant is careful of your precepts, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults!”