Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychoanalyst says that all of us have a shadow self. And this shadow self can be compared to a big long bag that is filled with all the dark parts of the self that we would like to keep hidden and secret. But day and night we drag this fully filled bag behind us. And Lent is a time to open the bag and look inside.
The shadow self contains all the dark parts of ourselves that we like to deny. It contains all the evil stuff that divides our hearts. It contains all the negative stuff that hurts our relationships. It contains all the toxic stuff that is so much part of all of us.
This shadow self may include our anger. This shadow may include our selfishness. The shadow may include our jealousy. It may include our pride. It may include our insecurity.
The shadow self may include our fears and our neediness. It may include our greed and our rage. It may include our hopelessness and our weaknesses. It may include our wildness. It may include our destructiveness.
It may show itself in the typical intentions that have nothing to do with finding God. And these typical intentions run like this; I want to win; I want to prove myself; I want to have power over others; I want to make the rules; I want to be in control; I want to do it all my way.
Even though these qualities and these deceptive intentions are an integral part of all of us, we want to hide them. We feel ashamed of these qualities and intentions. We want to deny these qualities and these intentions. We want to escape these qualities and these intentions. We want to run away from these qualities and intentions.
We don’t want to face all the shadow stuff. We don’t want to deal with the shadow stuff. We don’t want to take responsibility for what is in us. We don’t want to look at the dark side of the self. We don’t want to recognize these hidden negative realities.
The difficulty is that eventually the shadow self escapes. These negative qualities and unspiritual intentions escape out of the bag. And when they escape we project them onto others. We project them on to others because we dislike them so much. We project them because we want to mask them. We just don’t want to own them as an integral part of ourselves.
We project them on to our husbands and wives. We project them onto our children and our friends. We project them onto our neighbors and our acquaintances. We project them onto the boss and onto our co-workers.
The shadow self and the projecting onto others live in our little acts of selfishness. They live in our little deeds of neglect. They live in our little criticisms. They live in our snubs. They live in our slights. They live in our sarcasms. They live in our put-downs. They live in our self-pity. They live in our self-centeredness.
Instead of accepting all of these negative character traits and all of these deceptive intentions, we blame others. Instead of facing these negative qualities and intentions, we demonize others. Instead of admitting these qualities and intentions, we inflict pain on others.
Often we do our projecting and our blaming in small daily doses. We project on to those who are the closest to us. We project on to those whom we love the most. We project onto our friends as well as strangers.
Lent is a time for you to embrace and face the parts of the heart and deceptive intentions that don’t take you to God. And as St. Francis of Assisi advises, “Love the leper inside,” That is what Lent is for.
Msgr. Thomas J. Morgan is pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Cherry Hill.