Raise your hand if you're someone who thinks you need to be a better person.
Aight... that would seem to be the majority of you which is somewhat comforting...
I know I need to be a better person. As a Protestant, I used to believe firmly that the not better person was the real me. I bought into the doctrine of the miserable wretch who was born depraved and needed the sanctification of Christ to escape that depravity. It's a view of self I find tough to shake to this day.
Thankfully there's Catholicism.
Let's go to Leah Libresco for an explanation:
It’s a pretty wretched pessimism that thinks our moments of virtue are just a mask for something nasty underneath. One slip wipes their previous good behaviour off the ledger. I hate talking about authenticity, since I don’t care very much about who I am, just who I ought to be and how to get there. If pressed, I’d say “true self” is the mask we choose to put on when we’re dressing up as Christ.
But you can leave “true self” as an unanswered question or a hopelessly incoherent one and still think the assumption in Clarissa’s comment is pernicious. If our worst behavior is our truest portrait, then it’s hard not to get impatient with good behavior as artifice, something deceiving you until the other shoe finally drops. And once your friend finally slips up, you get to feel vindicated in your skepticism and get to write the other person off as not really good.
Instead of trying to help you friend strengthen and celebrate what’s best in themselves, which is low-reward, every day work, you get to be free of your obligations, now that you know what they really are. This is one of the failures of charity that I’m most susceptible to, and I’m still pretty sucky on this one, though I’m trying to become stronger. Some of the triggers I use to spot when I’m going wrong are noticing myself thinking anything that includes: “true colors” “So, all that [good thing] was a lie” “Well, at least he’s honest about it!” and (except in the context of My Cousin Vinny) ”I’m done with this guy.”
I’d be screwed if my friends treated me the way I’ve treated other people. When someone lets me down, I try to think about error modes and trouble shooting instead. What happened that made it harder for my friend to respond in their natural, loving way? How can s/he recognize this class of weakness in the future and what can s/he do about them? It’s better for me and better for the people that I love when we think of our weaknesses as bugs in the system.
I liked the way a parish priest put it when he said, “Sin is what you’re not.” It’s not in accord with your true nature, and remaining in sin is an act of self-annihilation. That means we get on with the urgent business of burning off the dross off our souls by reaching out to the truest part of our friends and ourselves. (If you’re a L’Engle fan, it’s the difference between loving Charles Wallace and being X’d).
My own priest, Father Mike, is an accomplished musician, something I find even more extraordinary given his sightlessness. He writes his own music and one of the songs he's written is called "Never More Me". Here's what he writes about that song:
The title conveys that Christ is the fullest and most true “me.” Receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist with a soul and heart longing for wholeness creates the chance to be more this “Real Me.” I actually played this in my parish for the first time the weekend when our First Communicants were to receive Jesus in His Holy Eucharist for the very first time. They brought a whole new appreciation of this song into my life.
It's encouraging, life-giving, most promising, to think that the me seen more often than not is the me stained by sin masking who I really am.
More importantly, it's imperative as a Catholic Christian, that I apply that encouraging, life-giving, most promising thinking to others.
It actually makes forgiving another quite a bit easier don't you think?