Camus, in his book THE FALL, tells the story of a successful Paris
lawyer, Jean Baptiste Clamence. He is above reproach in his professional
life. He has never accepted a bribe or stooped to a shady deal. He
takes up the cause of the poor and defenseless free of charge. He
does small acts of kindness, such as helping a blind person across
the street, at every opportunity. He is a model citizen - responsible,
virtuous and respected.
He believes he is sincere.
Yet within him there is immense pride and satisfaction in his own
excellence. He owes nothing to anybody, but many people are indebted
to him. He looks upon himself as a kind of moral superman.
Then late one evening something
happens that causes the music to stop and the lights to go out of
his life. As he crosses a bridge he passes a young woman. A few moments
later he hears a splash, as of someone falling into the water, and
a cry for help. He hears the cry several times but he does nothing.
He goes away slowly trembling from cold and shock, and tells nobody
about what happened.
But the incident had a terrible
effect on him. It shattered his illusion of his own virtue and goodness.
Why had he not gone to the rescue of the drowning girl? Suddenly he
begins to see himself as he really is - a phony, a play-actor, a man
bursting with vanity, pride, anger, lust and shrewd selfishness. Unable
to take what he discovers about himself he closes his office and throws
himself into a world of alcohol and debauchery. He ends up frequenting
bars where he tries to tell his story to anyone who will give him
an ear. But it is all hopeless because in his world there is no redemption,
no way out. And that is how the story ends.
The trap of shrewd selfishness
is a great one, especially for so-called virtuous people. We who think
we give our services "for free" can often be receiving a
rich but destructive reward in the adulation we give to ourselves
and in the admiration that we imagine we get from others.
In today's Gospel we have Jesus beginning his ministry by announcing
good news. "The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe
the good news." What is this good news? Essentially it is that
forgiveness is available and that recovery is possible. One can find
one's true self even after a disastrous fall, or maybe precisely through
the fall itself. The fall - a failure in business, the breakdown of
a relationship, a serious personal sin - may be exactly what we need
to open our eyes to our true selves.
Often our traditional kind
of prayer is geared to asking God to help us to achieve the objects
of our pride or shrewd selfishness. We tell God what we want to boost
our power, prestige and possessions and we feel betrayed by him if
we do not get what we want. In meditation, on the other hand, we ask
for nothing. We just be in God's presence. But it is impossible to
just be in silence and to continue in our shrewd selfishness. We cannot
continue to be silent and to be basically and interiorly dishonest.
Most of us can identify with
the lawyer in Camus' story. No matter how we appear to others, deep
down we know that we are not the people that we should be. We all
have had our falls and failures. The good news is that we are not
forever prisoners of our past. We are still loved by God and this
love is unconditional. Sometimes God even allows a fall to help us
see ourselves as we truly are. God's love, mercy, and forgiveness
are available to us if we are open to receive them. We are sinners
but we are forgiven sinners. The practice of meditation helps us shrewd
selfish people to first recognize our selfishness and then to accept
the great joy of being forgiven. It helps us to leave self and everything
behind to really follow Jesus "to become fishers of people"
as the disciples did in today's Gospel.
into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian
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