Evil’s Many Disguises: A Franciscan Reflection for “24 Hours for the Lord”

24 Hours for the Lord is a Lenten initiative of Pope Francis that places the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center of the Church’s pastoral activity. The Holy Father opens the initiative with at a penitential celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. Following the service, churches throughout Rome remain open for 24 hours with Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation available throughout this special day. Dioceses, parishes and religious communities around the world are invited to adapt the initiative to their local situations and needs.

Brothers of the Order are kindly requested to share their communities’ experiences of 24 Hours for the Lord with the General Secretariat for Missions and Evangelization at evangen@ofm.org. All responses will be shared with the Holy See.

 

Lying to Ourselves

I have been a confessor for more than 43 years. Long ago I  concluded that although we give different names to different sins (and rightly so), they all begin in the same place: We tell ourselves a lie about the temptation before us (usually, that it will make our life easier—and besides, God’s ways are too difficult, taking too much time and energy, etc.).

The most dangerous lies are probably not the ones that one person tells another but rather the ones that a person tells himself or herself. The ones that people tell other individuals may eventually be exposed. The ones they tell themselves, however, are much, much harder to dislodge because so much depends on them. People are inclined to “protect their investment”—even if it is based on a lie.

In one way, every sin is a failed shortcut around God’s ways—in effect, a failed attempt to be more realistic than God. In a sense, that’s what the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, the story of Cain and Abel, and similar biblical stories all tell us.

The best defense against temptation is to tell ourselves the whole truth. That is frequently difficult, but it is the only path toward genuine freedom. Nothing worthwhile or lasting can be built upon a lie.

In the last weeks of 1989, many people in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) protested in the streets of Prague, demanding of their Communist leaders, “Just tell the truth!” When that government soon crumbled, the new government could not immediately fix all that country’s problems, but it could stop lying to its citizens. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” wrote U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis in 1913.

When we tell ourselves the truth consistently, temptation starts to lose its appeal, its edge; living virtuously stops appearing so difficult. Temptation of some sort never totally disappears. We may be tempted to tell ourselves “Go ahead, it’s no big deal. Nobody will get hurt”, but the bright light of God’s truth always finally exposes it for the cheap lie that it is.

 

A Lesson from St. Francis

Once there was a friar who was so pious that he never spoke—not even to confess his sins. Some other friars were so amazed that they considered him a very holy man. When Francis learned of this, he ordered that friar to go to confession. The friar refused. Eventually, he left the friars and returned to a very unholy way of living. What had seemed to be a holy vow of silence exposed itself as a very unholy exercise of pride. That friar had been lying to himself about his sinlessness and the importance of his vow of silence. Evil has many disguises.

We are all sinners—that’s not great news. Unfortunately, it is news to some people that evil can be tremendously cunning, often trying to hide behind a seemingly holy practice—in this case, a vow of silence.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a moment to “Just tell the truth” and thereby live more deeply in the grace and freedom in which we have been created. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always sharing life by telling the truth to one another.

Many of the 24 Admonitions that St. Francis gave the friars during their general chapters are encouragements to live the deepest truth of their life together in Christ in greater honesty and freedom—and, therefore, also in greater service to one another and to the rest of God’s people.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned” can put us on the path to reclaiming our tremendous dignity as people loved by God and intended to share a life of ever-expanding freedom rooted in his values.

 

 

Br. Pat McCloskey, OFM

Br. Pat is a member of St. John the Baptist Province (USA) and serves as the Franciscan editor of St. Anthony Messenger and executive secretary of the OFM English-Speaking Conference.