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Shame v. Truth

"What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him (Mark 1:23-26).

A reflection from Father Tudgay for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

If we’re never challenged by anyone, we could turn into a monster. Seriously. If no one ever calls us out on something and/or if we lack the humility to accept a corrective or challenging word from a friend or loved one, we run the risk of becoming a rage-fueled, self-absorbed caricature of ourselves. These “corrective” moments from one person to the other, are moments of compassion. Even if the person offering the challenge or corrective is wrong, misguided, or doesn’t have all of the facts, their intention springs from care and concern about us. In short, they are moments of love.

This approach is very different from approaches that arise out of malice, resulting in shame. A corrective word from one to another is based on the belief that the receiving person is good and has maybe veered off course a bit. We’ve all been there. But the person who uses shame to motivate…this person’s outlook is shaped by the belief that a person is fundamentally wrong or broken. For the shaming person, the mistake that another makes reveals an outlook that is not only toxic, but untrue. For the person who uses shame to motivate, they see everyone as defined by the mistakes that are made, or the struggles that they have.

The authority with which Jesus commands the unclean spirit to vacate the possessed person is puzzling to the scribes and Pharisees, because it is authority that is demonstrated in love. Christ’s action in the Gospel highlights the distinction between a person and their struggle, between a person and their illness, between a person and their imperfection, between a person and their motivation. By freeing the possessed person, Jesus restores the image in which this person is created and redeemed.

The Gospel has implications for how we interact with one another – that we are not the sum-total of our struggles or mistakes – but that we are created in God’s image and likeness. In this Gospel passage, the Church is given its mission to restore and redeem through the celebration of the sacraments. Our task is to see one another through the lens of truth, as Christ does, and not through the lens of shame or condemnation. The Church’s teachings and our own consciences offer all of us a loving reality check from time to time, giving us the ability to dig deep and discover the presence of Christ, who brings us transformation and healing.

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