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Tom Scotus

Confronting the Darkness Within

Dividing Light from Darkness Sistine Chapel

We all seem to have an "enemy" that we can think of as evil and blame for our problems or the problems in the world. It may be a spouse, a parent, a former friend, a boss, a racial, ethnic or religious group, a gender, or a political or cultural movement. We usually have several such "enemies."

For secular liberals, the enemy is "the Right," especially the religious Right. For secular conservatives, it’s socialists and "bleeding heart" liberals. Evangelical Christians seem to think that the "unsaved" are the problem. For feminists, the enemy is most men, especially white, conservative, powerful men. For many Jews, the enemy is the goyem (all non-Jews). For some conservative Catholics, the enemy is liberals, Freemasons, Zionists and Communists.

Now, some of these individuals and groups may deserve, at lease to some extent, to be considered "enemies." However, the main problem with using them as scapegoats is that then we tend to avoid confronting the real problem: ourselves. Our tendency to blame our "enemies" instead of ourselves is rooted in our inordinate self-love, otherwise known as pride.

The Fathers of the Faith taught that inordinate self-love is the very essence of the darkness within us. We want praise, not criticism. We hide our faults and want them to be overlooked. We tend to rationalize the evil we do. We demand leniency when caught. We want to believe that we are good. We quickly condemn others for the faults we see in them and we want them to be punished.

This is exactly the way they Pharisees were in Jesus’ time. They thought they were good because they respected the letter of the religious law. Those who did not share their religious beliefs and practices they saw as evil. They especially hated Jesus and His followers because they did not champion the Jewish political cause, did not emphasize Jewish exclusivity, broke some of the Jewish religious traditions, and said that the Pharisees were blind hypocrites.

Now, just because we are not Jewish religious leaders, doesn’t mean we can’t be like the Pharisees. We are all like them to the degree that we refuse to confront the darkness within ourselves, believe that we are somehow superior to others (or want to be superior), and see those who seem to oppose us as enemies who we may hate and use as scapegoats.

For me, Lent is a time when we are called to confront the darkness within ourselves. It is a time when we should take a sharp, objective and critical look at who we are, deep inside. We should ask God to open our eyes to our hypocrisy, our selfishness and our pride and to give us the strength to overcome these evils. By doing so, we will abandon sinful self-love and learn to truly love God and our neighbors. Only by God’s grace can we do so.