There are moments in every person's life when we are filled with self-disgust.
When consciousness of failure tears the mask from self-assurance and self-justification, then reality stands revealed ─ even if only for a moment. Occasionally such a moment produces a permanent change and the mask is not resumed. Our natural tendency is to avoid these moments of truth. Pride, cowardice, and above all an intuitive feeling that the only way out of the situation will be to humble oneself and submit, tempt a person to declare reality unreal and to pronounce the counterfeit genuine.
The shock may come when a great wrong, or a succession of mischances, has sapped a person's self-confidence and forced him to take a closer look at himself. Everything depends on whether he takes this seriously or passes it off as a moment of "weakness" from which he speedily "recovers." In that case his last state is worse than his first ─ he becomes immunized to error, no longer able to distinguish the false from the true. Then we get cliches like "self-determination, the "right to live," "hunger for life," and so on. When this happens in the case of a gifted person, he can easily become an evil influence leading others astray, scattering sparks that ignite the inflammable material and bring about historic catastrophes. Such individuals are capable of dragging whole generations to ruin. Their contemporaries suddenly find themselves in a vicious circle, sharing responsibility for evils they are unable to rectify.
On the other hand by divine grace a person may be suddenly raised to a consciousness of how near he is to God. Then, too, he is bound to be shocked by the truth of his own unworthiness. None of us can escape the admission that we have made sad mistakes and to some extent bungled our lives. By acknowledging their fault humans recognize their weakness and their dependence on divine help, and recognize also the danger of concluding an easy peace with the weaknesses of their own nature. Coming to terms with things our conscience cannot approve means that we must share the responsibility for them because they have our assent.
Father Alfred Delp, S.J. "The Last Condition Is Worse Than the First." from Prison Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006).
Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press. This excerpt appeared in Magnificat.
Father Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907-1945) was a German Jesuit priest and a philosopher of the German Resistance. Part of the inner Kreisau Circle resistance group, he is considered a significant figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism. Implicated in the failed 1944 July Plot to overthrow the Nazi Dictator Adolf Hitler, Delp was arrested, and sentenced to death. He was executed in 1945. Father Delp is the author of Advent Of The Heart, and Prison Writings.Copyright © 2006 Orbis Books
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