The divine therapist

Pascal famously said the first obligation of a Christian is to think clearly. Not bad as a sound bite and certainly not unexpected from the logical mind of a mathematician. Of course, Pascal derived his wisdom from the Lord Himself who promised: "But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth." In contrast, Pontius Pilate despaired of any hope of knowing truth. With the Word Made Flesh standing in front of him, he could not see, nor did he ask for God's help to see. In his worldly and cynical way he could only say, "What is truth?"

Most of us are like Pontius Pilate in this respect much of the time. Knowing the truths of the universe and, more importantly, ourselves is difficult, and it's too easy to despair of attaining or living the truth. The prophet Jeremiah is eloquent in this regard: "More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?" But Jeremiah prophesizes the remedy found in Christ and the Holy Spirit: "I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward each man according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds" (Jer 17:9).

In seeking the truth of ourselves, let's consider a few psychological and spiritual disorders - not necessarily in need of professional therapy, merely common to all of us in some degree: transference, obsessive compulsion and projection. As we seek God's remedy for our wounds, it's helpful to identify the disordered inclinations causing them.

Transference. A father has a hard day at work. His boss is irritable and demanding. His coworkers are unaware of the urgency to get the job done, but he is held responsible for a failure. He gets caught in traffic driving home. Arriving, he's greeted with a wife overwhelmed and surrounded with hungry and unruly children. The kitchen faucet is broken. Dad erupts in anger: "How did you break that? Be more careful." An angry exchange concludes with a cold war (and a cold meal). The evening is ruined because dad transferred his irritations onto easy victims, his wife and children. Of course, nothing will change until he realizes his tendency for transference, getting to the root of his bad behavior even as he asks for help and understanding from his family.

Obsessive compulsion. In the Gospel there is the account of the demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes. The man was living in the tombs and had incredible strength, breaking the chains with which he was bound. "No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones" (Mk 5: 4-5). Christ identifies the demons by name ("Legion") and casts them out. The man is overjoyed: "… the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with Him. Jesus did not let him, but said, 'Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you'" (Mk 5:18-19). Obsessive compulsion is a repetition of self-inflicted wounds (sexual disorders, drugs, gambling, burning hatreds, etc.), the result of unhealthy patterns of life, chronic personal disappointments or an inability to deal with injustice - but never ruling out diabolical interference.

Projection. After defeating King Saul and assuming the throne with God's favor, King David commits adultery and murders Bathsheba's husband to cover his crime. He buries the secret into the recesses of his soul and begins to "move on in life" (as we say nowadays). Nathan the prophet is driven by the Spirit of truth, however, and confronts David with a sweet "Mary had a little lamb" metaphor. When Nathan concludes that the lamb is stolen from the little girl, David erupts in anger over the injustice. But Nathan, successfully catching David in act of "projection," calls him out with, "Thou art the man." David's crime was (perhaps unconsciously) gnawing within him. With the help of God's grace through the ministry of Nathan, David observed the same sin in others and he "projected" his indignation. At times the sins that most annoy us are the very sins we ourselves, with consciences dulled, attempt to bury deep within our hearts.

The psychological and spiritual disorders described above are difficult for us to see in ourselves, and even more difficult to remedy. The havoc in our lives is obvious, but we are confused as to the underlying reasons. Those with marital problems, for example, often seek counseling to ensure that the spouse (and the spouse alone) comes to his or her senses. And it's far easier to see and reveal the sins of others than to confess our own sins. Our hearts are truly "tortuous" and "beyond remedy" - without God's grace.

This is the reason Christ sent the Holy Spirit into the world. Not only does the Spirit complete the mission of Christ with the objective saving truths of the church's "deposit of faith," but we who have received the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation now have at our disposal the divine therapist who will show us the way and provide grace for the journey.

We must not be glib in recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit. The story of each of us is filled with drama and uncertainty until we breathe our last breath. It takes time, prayer and a constant evaluation (and self-inventory or "examination of conscience") of our personal moral history to know the truth. At times we may need the services of a professional therapist. Mostly, we need a good confessor and a regular confession schedule. But we must make the effort with God's grace, and we must seek the truth in sincerity. "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).

Fr. Pokorsky is pastor of St. Michael Church in Annandale.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015