This morning's Divine Intimacy meditation spoke to me on a subject I thought I was o.k. with: sincerity. I consider myself to be a pretty sincere person. In fact, I can be honest to a fault. I can be critical of myself as well as others, and what is criticism other than sincerity that really should remain unspoken, or at the very least turned into something constructive? When I read the meditation each day I normally find that those virtues I need help most with are those that call out to me. But sincerity, I thought I had down. Maybe I don't.
God is truth, and no one can be admitted to His intimacy who does not strive as much as he can, to live in truth and to be sincere in all his actions. First of all, we must seek to possess truth in the depths of our heart, that we may know ourselves as we really are in the eyes of God, stripped of all disguises and artificiality. To do this we must accept, not only the truths which please us, but also those which are painful and wound our pride to the quick, revealing our faults and evil tendencies. A person who is sincere never closes his eyes to these truths, but values them, even if they are humiliating, knowing that humiliation which reveals the truth is worth more than illusion which flatters pride and keeps us in error. Sometimes God permits difficult circumstances which are especially hard and trying for the practice of virtue, that we may see the truth and know ourselves as we really are. Under the onset of contradiction, we experience movements, hitherto unknown, surging up within us: movements of anger, rebellion, selfishness, from which perhaps we had had the illusion that we were free. In such cases, instead of turning our gaze away, it is necessary to have the courage to recognize these faults and confess them, humbly and frankly. St John of the Cross speaks of certain pious souls who, in confession, "palliate [their sins] and make them appear less evil, and thus … excuse themselves rather than accuse themselves" (cf. Dark Night of the Soul I, 2, 4). A soul that loves the truth is very far from acting in this way; even if it has only venial sins and imperfections of which to accuse itself in confession, it exposes them all very sincerely, without magnifying or minimizing them, never blaming circumstances, but only itself for all that is faulty. Sincerity in confessing our faults is the first step toward freeing ourselves from them.
Yesterday, Doug and I had some banking business which required us to sit in the bank for a while. In fact, due to a bank error in the papers we needed to sign, we sat there for over an hour. While a somewhat painful wait, it was an opportunity to people watch, which I always enjoy. There was one woman at the bank, I noticed as we waited as she was also waiting to take care of some business. She looked as though she was of modest means. She was older, dressed "simply," not made up or particularly groomed. She seemed nice, she smiled at Faith, she was pleasant with the employee who worked with her (see how nosy I am?), and after she left the bank I did not think of her for a moment until I sat down and read about sincerity this morning. She was, to me, the picture of sincerity. She held herself with a dignity that, though she seemed of simple means, revealed an inner sincerity. She seemed very much at home in her simple shell. And as I sat and pondered, I realized that many people of simple means seem very much at home inside their shell, and very sincere in who they are. There is no false perception they are trying to pull off, unlike many who are trying to project an image of who they want to be.
A soul can be insincere in its interior life and its relations with god, but it can never deceive Him, and its lack of sincerity will only redound to its own disadvantage. But with respect to our neighbors it is not so; a want of sincerity can easily harm them, or at least deceive them. Hence, not only charity, but also justice demands that we conduct ourselves with the greatest sincerity in our relations with our neighbor.
To be sincere, our words must, first of all, correspond to our thoughts. To be convinced of one thing and to affirm another, with the intention of deceiving someone, is directly contrary to the truth and, therefore, an offense against God, who is infinite Truth. Such an act is absolutely inadmissible in any soul, and especially in one who aspires to union with God: How can falsehood hope to be united to Supreme Truth? And yet under a more subtle form certain deficiencies in sincerity are not wholly absent from the conduct of devout souls — little subterfuges, words spoken in such a way that they ward off a just rebuke, conceal a mistake which one does not wish to admit, or even attract a little praise or admiration … and all this through vanity or human respect, in order to avoid humiliation or suffering. These are mean ways of acting, unworthy of a sincere, noble spirit.
I see now how sincerity is not just about what we say, but who we are. Are we sincere within ourselves? Are we honest about who we are in how we act, even when we don't interact with others at all? Being honest within ourselves is the first step toward being honest with others. If we deceive ourselves internally, we can never be sincere externally.
It is not sufficient to be sincere in our words; we must also be sincere in our actions and conduct. Sincere conduct is that which makes us appear just as we are, with no affectation, and no desire to appear to be what we are not. Our words and actions should express the truth which has been sough and loved interiorly. Sincerity does not require us to reveal all that we think or know to everyone; this would be contrary to prudence and to other virtues. It does, however, demand that everything we do reveal, by word or act, or even by silence, corresponds to truth.
"O Lord, if I wish to reach You, who are the Way, the Truth and the Life, I must travel the road of truth, without any pretense or dissimulation, renouncing reason that has been darkened with self-love and human respect. I must act with simplicity, wholly dying to myself and to creatures. Teach me, O eternal Truth, how to act sincerely and frankly. Let my soul, simple as a dove, fly to You to build its nest in Your heart, and nourish itself with the knowledge of You and of itself; thus despising its own malice, it will find nothing in itself to satisfy it, and therefore, it will be unable to stay far away from You, not finding where to repose outside of You. Teach me to walk in the straight path of truth without stopping, but always advancing hurrying and running swiftly, in order to follow You, eternal Truth, my guide and my way." (St Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi)