A man who is not stripped and poor and naked within his own soul will unconsciously tend to do the works he has to do for his own sake rather than for the glory of God. He will be virtuous not because he loves God’s will but because he wants to admire his own virtues.
When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for His sake alone. – Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
As far back as I can remember, I cared very much for how others thought of me. My parents, my brother, my teachers, my friends… subconsciously, I was always assessing myself through their eyes. I hated to disappoint those I love… being misunderstood by those I loved was something I could barely stand.
Yet, although I seemed to have lost my sense of identity in the approval of others, the deeper truth is that I was fiercely trying to construct my identity and build my own sense of worth. I have been attempting to erect something that is in reality a phantom – building a self constructed of lies.
I am far from being stripped and naked and poor in my soul. That is perhaps why I am so easily distracted into complacency by my own work. My false self is very strong, and it drives me to defend my own ego by judging and condemning my brothers and sisters so that I feel justified. My false self keeps compassion far from my heart. I desire to die to this false self.
The saints were so dazzled by Your reflection in the souls of all they live with that they no longer had power to condemn anything they saw in others. Even in the greatest sinners they can see virtues and goodness that no one else can find (Merton). They nurtured the bright spark in others’ souls into a burning flame through mercy and love rather than despise their darkness. Help me to empty myself, Lord, so that I too can gain the clarity of vision that compassion offers.