Catherine de Hueck Doherty, the founder of Madonna House, once gave a wonderfully insightful interview. A renowned and respected spiritual figure, she acknowledged that her path wasn’t easy. Why? Because, like the rest of us, she was pathologically complex. Being a human being, she suggested, isn’t easy.
Here’s how she described herself. I paraphrase:
“Inside me,” she said, “there are three people. There’s someone I call the ‘Baroness’. The ‘Baroness’ is the one who’s spiritual, efficient, and given over to prayer and asceticism. She’s the religious person inside me. She’s the one who founded a religious community, who writes spiritual books, challenges others, and has dedicated her life to God and the poor. The ‘Baroness’ reads the gospels and is impatient with the things of this world. For her, life here and now must be sacrificed for the next world.
But, inside me too, there’s another person I call ‘Catherine’. ‘Catherine’ is, first of all and always, the woman who likes fine things, luxuries, comfort, pleasure. She enjoys idleness, long baths, fine clothes, putting on make-up, good food, and used to (while married) enjoy a healthy sex life. ‘Catherine’ enjoys this life and doesn’t like self-sacrifice. She’s not particularly religious and generally hates the ‘Baroness’. ‘Catherine’ and the ‘Baroness’ don’t get along.
However, there’s still another person inside of me, who’s neither ‘Catherine’ or the ‘Baroness’. Inside me too there’s a little girl lying on a hillside in Finland, watching the clouds and daydreaming. This little girl doesn’t particularly like either ‘Catherine’ or the ‘Baroness’.
… and, as I get older, I feel more like the ‘Baroness’, long more for ‘Catherine’, but think maybe the real person inside me is the little girl daydreaming on a hillside.”
Had these words been uttered by someone still struggling with basic conversion, they wouldn’t pack much punch. They come however from a spiritual giant, from someone who had long ago mastered essential discipleship and had, long ago too, vowed herself to a radical discipleship of service to God and the poor. If saints struggle in this way, what about the rest of us?
That’s the point. Saints struggle and so does everyone else. It’s not a simple thing to be a human being and it’s even more complex if you’re striving to give yourself over beyond what comes naturally, morally and spiritually.
Like Catherine de Hueck Doherty, all of us have multiple persons inside us. Inside each of us there’s someone who has faith, who wants to live the Beatitudes, and who wants to be attuned to truths and realities of the gospels. Inside each of us, there’s a martyr who wants to die for others, a ‘Mother Teresa’ who wants to radically serve the poor, and a moral artist who wants to carry his or her solitude at a high level. But inside each of us there’s also someone who wants to taste life and all its pleasures here and now. Inside each of us there’s a hedonist, a sensualist, a libertine, a materialist, an agnostic, and an egoist. Beyond that, inside each of us there is also a little girl or little boy, innocent, daydreaming, watching the clouds on some hillside, not particularly enamoured of either the saint and the sinner inside us.
Who’s the real person? They all are. We’re all of these: saint and pleasure-seeker, altruist and egoist, martyr and hedonist, person-of-faith and agnostic, moral-artist and compensating libertine, innocent child and jaded adult, and the task of life is not to crucify one for the other, but to have them make peace with each other.
Peace, as we know, means more than the simple absence of war. It’s a positive quality. What makes for peace? Two things: harmony and completeness.
A musical melody is peaceful when all the different notes are strung together so as to make a harmony, a melody. Part of peace is to not have discord. But there’s another part: To play a melody, you also need a full keyboard. Peace also depends upon having enough keys at your disposal to play all the notes that the musical scores demands. A keyboard with a wide, wide range of possibilities is not a bad thing.
That’s true too of human nature. Our complexity is not our enemy but our friend. All those pathological opposites inside us are precisely what make up our keyboard. It’s precisely because we’re both sinner and saint, hedonist and martyr, adult and child, that we have the enough keys to play the various musical scores that life hands us.
The secret, of course, is harmony, melody. We need to move beyond a random, undisciplined stabbing at the keyboard because that produces discord. We’ve all had enough experience in life to know that. Peace comes when we put all the complex pieces inside of us together in such an order so as to make a beautiful melody.
And, of course, the more varied the notes, the more complex the musical score, the richer the final melody.