Reflection for July 14, 2019 (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time) by Ewelina Frackowiak

Deuteronomy 30. 10-14; Colossians 1. 15-20; Luke 10. 25-37

Let me ask you up front: How do you feel about the story we have just heard – the story of the Good Samaritan? How do you place yourself in the context of this story? Are you indifferent towards it, are you feeling good about yourself because you identify with the Samaritan, because you take yourself for someone who helps a lot, or you are right at this moment beating yourself up thinking that you are like the Levite and the priest and you should help people in your life more than you do?

The reason I am asking is this: I want to distinguish between the inner guidance each of us has within oneself and the merciless inner judge by the help of which our own minds turn against us. I want to differentiate between the inner guide, which we call the Holy Spirit, and the inner critic, which the psychologists call the superego.[1] If I succeed, we will be able to feel the difference between these two.

But you may already sense well what I am talking about. Can you recall a time when you did something because you wanted to feel good about yourself or you wanted to avoid your own harsh judgement about yourself? How did it feel? Now compare it with the feeling that you had when you did something out of kindness – either kindness for yourself or kindness for others.

From my own experience, I can tell you that the first scenario – me helping others because I DON’T want to be admonished by my own mind and I DO want to feel good about myself – feels draining and constricting. The help I gave did not feel real. Is that how it feels for you as well?

Acting out of compassion, on the other hand, is effortless and feels so natural that it may not occur to you to think of it as something good or even to think of it at all. Do you remember Jesus’ advice “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”[2]? That’s how acting out of inner guidance, acting out of compassion feels like. Unself-conscious. Effortless.

As the Jesuit Anthony de Mello used to say: “Effort can put food into your mouth, it cannot produce an appetite, it can keep you in bed, it cannot produce sleep; (…) [it] can perform acts of service, it is powerless to produce love (…).”[3]

But how can we produce love, awake compassion, access the inner guide? And let’s stress it, the inner guide is always within us, it is impossible for us to lose it. We do not want to create it, we just want to tap into it. And the way to do it, the way to let kindness emerge, is to loosen up the grip that the inner critic has on us.

When we were children, we received admonitions and praises for our different behaviors. Out of those we learned a way we should be in the world, which was of course useful. But we also formed in our minds an idealized self-image, an ideal which we aspire to become. The inner critic berates us for not measuring up to that ideal or it praises us for nailing it and being the best. Both of these strategies of the inner critic are hurtful. The superego is not compassionate. Its harshness, its boastfulness tells it apart from the inner guide which has compassion as one of its qualities.

So what is the idealized self-image that your inner critic is using against you? What is your inner critic telling you? For a start we can learn to recognize its attacks. Let ourselves feel how hurtful they are. When we allow ourselves to feel the hurt, it will open the door for compassion.

My own inner critic tells me that I am not smart enough. When I hear it, I tell it: “It hurts”. Or I tell it to go away. If I do that, it feels a bit more spacious in my mind and I feel stronger.

The Samaritan helped the injured man because “he was moved with pity.”[4] He did tap into his inner guide. In the first reading of today, Moses says “Surely this commandment that I am commending you is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. (…) it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”[5] All that is required of us is to be in touch with what’s already in our hearts.

[1] For more about the inner critic see Byron Brown, Soul without Shame. A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, (Boulder: Shambhala, 1999).

[2] Matthew 6. 3

[3] Anthony de Mello, The Way to Love. Meditations for Life, (New York: Image, 1991), p.51

[4] Luke 10. 33

[5] Deuteronomy 30. 11, 14