A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit with a priest I had become friends with while I was in Belize as a missionary. (In light of the last column I about the poker playing priest, I feel compelled to say that I have many friends who are not priests, but this is the Pastor’s Corner and not being a pastor myself, I feel like I have to throw in some anecdotes to keep the status quo.) Father Mark was in Florida to raise some funds for the missions. I met up with him in Jacksonville before he flew back to Central America. I wanted to go to confession before he left, so at the airport he checked in his bags and then we looked for a good place for me to spill my sins to God through one of His human representatives (questions about confession? Another article for another week).
Although many people pray in an airport it’s not easy to find a good place to pray out loud without seeming weird, so after vetoing Starbucks and those little shoe-shine stands, a security guard asked us if we were looking for a chapel. Maybe Father Mark’s collar gave it away, I don’t know. The guard pointed us to the “meditation room” which had a little praying stick figure on the sign outside. So far so good. We walked in and saw some chairs, a few bibles and in the center of the room was a sort of altar. It seemed normal enough, with flowers and a cloth but where there would normally be a cross instead there was a mirror. As someone used to saying mass at an altar with a cross above it, Father Mark looked at the set-up and said, “wow… God is… my image?”
Indeed. Such a large mirror made for a great place to check your hair, but as far as “meditation”, looking at ones reflection did not seem like the best way to ascend to union with the Divine. I’m not criticizing Jacksonville International Airport—(please take no offense since you already seem to have it in for me, making me throw away my hair product bottles that exceed carry-on regulations) – The “meditation room” was probably just something to do with the an old smoker’s lounge. The mirror just gave me a lot to think about.
When we pray, we are first striving for union with God but we also are seeking to know ourselves better. Sometimes looking at ourselves is not the best way to do this. I know that when I’m having a really good hair day, I don’t even notice if my socks don’t match til my friend is laughing at me (I wish I was pulling this example out of the air, but it’s happened). We can be so taken with how great we appear in some ways we don’t notice our faults. This can happen in the opposite way too—we get overwhelmed by our faults and can’t see what we do well -- but this seems less frequent in our self-esteem generation. In prayer, we need to see ourselves as we as God sees us. He doesn’t want us to leave Church with warm fuzzies if there’s things that we really need to change. In other words, he wants you to know if your socks don’t match.
St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic, warned against “imaginary virtue” explaining “the wiles of the devil are terrible; he will run a thousand times round hell if by doing so he can make us believe we have a single virtue which we have not”. We need to constantly examine our lives and especially our actions to see what virtues we lack and where we need to practice and improve. Now, let me clarify that I’m not advocating guilt—just an honest examination of how God is calling us to grow. This comes from looking not at a mirror but at Christ himself. St. Paul had caught on to this when he wrote to the Romans, saying, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? God, thanks be to Him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25).
Next time you think a mirror tells it all, look instead at Christ on the cross. Pull up “Passion of the Christ” on Google images and just stare at what the love of God looks like. He denied us nothing-- not even his only Son. Hebrews 12:4 reminds us, “in your struggle with sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”. Don’t compare yourself with who you were a few years ago before you started your awesome bible study or with your neighbor who sleeps in instead of Church two out of four Sunday mornings. Look only to Christ’s example, rejoice in how He’s helped and continue to model your life after Him.