Confession, Humiliation & Truth: The Pain in Virtue

confess
Seeing Yourself in a Different Light

“Try to have some humility,” father spat through the grate.

Kneeling in the confessional, I had the impossible experience of seeing myself from another’s perspective and my perception was replaced with a new and horrible truth. Arriving at this realization was the most abrupt, most awful experience I ever had in my life.

If I did not have humility, I realized that I did not possess any virtue, and that all my ideas about the natural law and right reason were total garbage. While charity is the greatest virtue, humility might be the most terrifying because of what its lack implies.

The Value of Insignificance

Humility is the foundation of every other virtue, in my thinking. It is the reason why Jesus Christ was born of a woman and the reason why Our Lady is the Mother of God. Humility is not just acting as if you’re no big deal, it is being unconcerned with importance in any human respect while erasing the marks you inevitably scratch into the surface of daily life. Humility is knowledge of insignificance, knowledge that we are dirt. To be humble might seem counter to self preservation as a function of the instinctual intention to survive in this world, but it’s essential to life because it helps us to live with discretion.

In my understanding of humility, its opposite would be a thing that is obnoxious. The origin of the word obnoxious is derived from the Latin for ‘toward’ and ‘harm’ and its present definition, according to Oxford, is “extremely unpleasant.” To go toward harm suggests a complete abandonment of the instinctual intention to survive, and I therefore assume that to be extremely unpleasant is to also be inherently stupid.

Kneeling in that confessional, I realized that everything I understood to be good about myself was nothing more than a bunch of words and actions heaped up into a pile of shiny garbage that I used to impress myself because I thought all this stuff proved me more important as it released me from the guilt of self love. It became obvious, also, that Father found my garbage to be extremely unpleasant, which allowed me to understand that I was inherently stupid and that I was headed toward harm, and when something hit me, it would be entirely my fault.

Thank you, Father.

Accepting Humiliation as an Opportunity to Love

Humans avoid pain in their intent to survive, and we can go so far as to eliminate our ability to feel any form of emotion in our quest to improve our experience here below. To have humility requires that we not only accept the pain of life, but to also transform that pain into spiritual growth, no matter how unpleasant that process may be.

If we strive to love, as we are commanded, we must humble ourselves at every opportunity. If we do not humble ourselves to the point of transforming the experience of humiliation into the possession of humility, our experience of love will depend on the object of our affection existing as intrinsic to our self love. Without humility, our experience of loving another will be that of disappointment in ourselves. And we rarely bother to suffer the knowledge of our own obnoxiousness unless it’s impossible to ignore.

As Catholics, we must love everyone, no matter if they are an enemy or trying to persecute us, or offending all we hold sacred. But if we ignore the humiliations that present themselves on our mission to love, we have no hope for salvation because we will never be able to reduce our preference for our self enough to love someone we’d rather prefer less. Loving enemies goes beyond just praying for all those people you don’t like, it means that you must actually experience love for someone who has wronged you.

Preferring Yourself Less to Love Enemies More

If you can make a habit of renouncing yourself, you will be in a state where any charity you are given can be given to the one who has damaged you because you understand that you are nothing. Anything that man forces you to endure is also nothing, and that everything requires only your acceptance and submission because it is delivered to you by God. If you acquiesce to another’s hateful treatment of you, accepting it and submitting to it, you can return love to that person in a true sense because their hatred will not be a disappointment you experience selfishly.

If we’d rather not be shown a superficial truth because of the temporary pain of humiliation, we will not understand the meaning of the most important truth when its permanence is revealed. It’s easy to reject the opportunities that allow us to lower ourselves, and I considered ignoring the entirety of what I learned during that confession because it was unpleasant. But, if we avoid growth because it’s unpleasant, then we should also cease our practice because it would be empty without growth. There’s enough shiny garbage piled up in the world claiming to be spirituality. We could just do more yoga and not bother with the painful growth part.

Negotiating the World with Crazy Alice

That is not to discount the struggle the world presents us in its active rejection and punishment of humility, calling self effacement failure. The world forces agreement to the terms that in order to be a “whole” person, one must be the best and earn the most, and all aspects of life must be superlative, documented and posted for public approval. If you don’t want to participate, then you can go elsewhere, says the world.

A longtime friend, who I’ll call Alice, told me her experience selecting a name for her first child, and it illustrates the extent to which we all are expected to trade virtue for self love in order to “make it” in the world.

Alice recounted that while she was pregnant, she made the strategic decision to curry favor at the office by letting her coworkers choose her child’s name. She created and posted artistic renderings of a selection of names and the one that received the most likes on Instagram was to be the name of her child.

When the results were in, Alice realized that the winning name was also a name that she once heard a former coworker say she considered naming her child. This person lived across the country and no longer had any contact with Alice, and she ultimately named her child something else completely. But Alice called the woman and asked her if it was OK if she “used her name.” The woman gave her approval. Alice was relieved because if she had to choose the second runner up, it would not have been good for favor-currying at the office, and if this woman from across the country somehow communicated to somebody that Alice “stole her name,” that would have totally killed her originality points.

Never in my life had Alice seemed so insane. I asked her rationale for letting a bunch of people who she didn’t really know choose her baby’s name, instead of naming the child after her husband’s grandfather like her family wanted. She explained that, since things were rocky for her at work, she wanted to give people something totally different to talk about when they were talking about her, and she decided that the only thing that would change the topic of conversation from her performance would be to let the people at work compete to name her child in a kind of crazy way that provided a reason to do fun stuff on Instagram instead of work.

Religious ‘Nones’ and Religious Nuns

Alice, a Millennial who identifies as a religious ‘None,’ doesn’t seem worried about humility and would sooner cut off her arm than lose her self importance. Alice is centered on making herself happy and everything she does is driven by the importance she places on how others perceive her. She also thinks that sorcery is a cool hobby to just sort of dabble in on the weekends because “it’s a legit version of religion.”

While recounting her story to a different kind of Millennial religious nun, the woman advised me with a great deal of concern to dump Alice because the nun stated that she “wanted to see me in Heaven.”

It surprised me that this woman, with enough devotion to give her life to God, wasn’t so much illuminated by that love to see her sins with more clarity than she saw my eternal damnation. And, yes, the fact that Alice is a pretend witch worries me because sorcery is evil and she honestly enjoys it. But, aside from the witchcraft, one religious ‘None’ seems surprisingly similar to the other religious nun.

A Rule to Consider

So, I don’t know if I will see one nun in Heaven or if I won’t see the other. But what I do believe is that it’s better to not presume to know another’s destiny when it takes you six days to emotionally recover from hearing a single truth about your life on earth.

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