SummaryThis priestly advice given to John Clark on his wedding day changed what he saw in the mirror. Try it and you may never look at a mirror the same way again.
Shortly before Lisa and I were married, a priest friend of mine told me something I will never forget.
He said, “John, you are about to start your dream job, and you are about to marry your dream girl. But there will come a day when you look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Is this all there is?’”
I didn’t quite know what to say. And then he started talking about some other topic, but my mind stayed focused on his rather dour, depressing, and dysphoric prediction. So I interrupted him and said, “Father, what then? What gets you through those times?”
The priest made me wait for the answer, and so, dear reader, I’m going to make you wait for a minute or two as well. In the meantime, I’m going make a few observations about life and mirrors in the ensuing quarter-century after that conversation.
Let’s talk about a few reasons why you might find yourself in front of a mirror asking that question.
First, some people will let you down. You will count on them—friends, brothers, priests, husband or wife—but they’ll let you down anyway. Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they tried but failed. Maybe they can’t tell how hard you’ve been trying.
Maybe they don’t understand how much you are suffering without their encouragement. Maybe they don’t know how to help. Maybe they didn’t know how important it was to you. And those are the people who like you! Others will dislike you for reasons you will never know.
Second, there is no “dream job.” The expression “dream job” should be stricken from the lexicon. Yes, I’ve had some jobs that I enjoyed more than others. I’ve worked in professions that are more rewarding than others. But as far as dreams go, mostly I’ve dreamed about going home after work. (Happily, there are dream girls, as the past twenty-five years have also confirmed.)
Third, the more good you do, the more you’re going to be oppressed for it. Take a few minutes and think back on your life—on all those times that you made a sincere effort to be more virtuous and/or to overcome some sinful habit.
In the words of the Act of Contrition, think back on the times you really meant the words “to amend my life.” It is as though a memo went out in Hell: “This guy is serious about amending his life and staying on the road to Heaven; let’s throw up some roadblocks.”
If your family decides to start saying the Rosary every night at 7PM, neighbors will unexpectedly drop by, people will call on the phone at 6:59, or your dog will start barking for no apparent reason after the first Our Father. Roadblocks are going up.
You’ve made a sincere effort to stop talking about the topic of politics because, whenever you do, you wind up saying something uncharitable to someone. The next day, you’ll be at supermarket grabbing some milk, and all of a sudden, you find yourself baited into a political conversation. Roadblocks are going up.
Worst of all, the people who love you most will say unkind things that seem very out of place for them. You’re really trying to be better, but their comment will really hurt. Then a temptation will present itself when you’ve been weakened by these unkind words. Roadblocks are going up.
These are some of the things that send you to mirrors with interrogatives.
Well, you’ve been patient. So now, here is Father’s answer, which consisted of one word: grace. God grants us actual graces to help us overcome life’s difficulties and grow closer to Him in the process. As Rev. John Arintero wrote, “Grace makes the rough smooth, the heavy light, the bitter sweet, the difficult easy.”
By our baptism, God grants us the essential perfection of sanctifying grace in our souls, and if we lose that grace through sin, we must spare no effort to get it back. Each and every soul in the state of sanctifying grace is a child of God and has an indwelling of the Blessed Trinity.
Saint Augustine poetically says that in this life, we cannot see God as He truly is; when we try to see God, it is as though we are looking through a darkly lit mirror. When you look in the mirror, you might struggle to see this Divine Indwelling, but the choirs of Heaven view your soul in the state of grace for what it is: a treasure and pleasure to behold because of that Divine indwelling.
And once you begin to recognize that—one you begin to appreciate that—you will never look at a mirror the same way again. And you’ll no longer find questions. Only answers.