Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Moonlit Night, A Village 1897

It could be eleven o'clock at night here if it is summertime. And while the top of the painting is filled with soft color, the bottom part is characterized by stripes of dark shadow. 

In Buddhist cultures monks and nuns are so revered, it is even unthinkable to step on their shadow. Remember the scene in The Acts of the Apostles 5:15 where people bring the sick into the streets and lay them on beds, so that Peter's passing shadow might fall on them to heal. In Psalm 36:7 we read

Yahweh, you support both man and beast;
how precious, God, is your faithful love.
So the children of Adam
take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

In psychology shadow is what I refuse to acknowledge about myself and yet is always appearing one way or another. Shadow is something that doesn't feel right about my personality, that I don't seem to be able to control. And if I don't recognize it and attend to it, then it leaks out, impacting on others and poisoning the atmosphere in which I live. 

Addressing one's personal shadow is not the same as "breaking a bad habit" or labeling mortal and venial sins or  practicing virtues. We might meet an alcoholic who hasn't "touched a drop" in years but who is resentful, controlling and arrogant. They are sometimes called dry drunks. This is untreated or un-addressed shadow.

We've all got a shadow side. Often our portrayal of the saints is so full of light and without any indication of their having a shadow side, it becomes difficult to identify with them. We wind up admiring them from a distance while feeling poorly about ourselves. "I'm no saint," some Catholics like to say. That's a conversation stopper as they then seldom reflect more deeply about their own dark side. Many people grow old and have done nothing to address their shadowy aspects and so they become unattractive, full of resentment, hatreds, pettiness, selfishness, vanity. We know the movie character, the man or woman who has become a "miserable old thing." 

What to do? People who practice The Twelve Steps are successful to the extent they really tell on themselves. "You're only as sick as your secrets," they say. A wise nun addressing the seminarians said to us, "Reveal it: darkness can't stay in the presence of light." And if I can't or won't risk that revelation for fear of this, that or the other thing - find someone to work with who does this professionally. Really getting at it is hard work. But then we're free!


  1. We all have a shadowy side. But I believe the depth of the darkness differs greatly from one person to the next. If I look at St. Therese of Lisieux, and her accounts from The Little Flower, it is hard to compare her dark side to the average person. Yes, I so find it difficult to identify with a saint like that. As honest as I can be with myself, I can not escape from the darkness completely. As I cast light upon one thing, another ray of light becomes cut off. I am not afraid, just incapable.

  2. While serving as chaplain to a school-community for young people who had lost their way = more than a few in big trouble - we had a company come in to do a play about Maximilian Kolbe. Overwhelmingly, the young people admired Maximilian but could not identify with him because the character depiction was totally without shadow. Once could say perhaps, without humanity. When someone ran up to Dorothy Day gushing about her being a "living saint" she replied, "Don't dismiss me so easily."

  3. A priest must often listen to everyone's dark secrets about themselves. It must be difficult to keep his own shadowy thoughts from overwhelming him as he carries the darkness from everyone else. I feel for you Father as you are the one that hears people's revelations about themselves as they free themselves.

  4. Yes. When I was chaplain to the community I've referenced above, I'd listen to confessions for upwards of 8 hours a day. These were kids who had done awful things. I remember when I'd leave at night I'd drive homme the 10 miles with all the car windows down, even in January, to let it all blow off me. And I have a prayer that asks God for a detox after a day of ministry in which so much bad stuff can stick to you unawares. And it's important for the priest to continually look for what's good, beautiful and honest, so as not to become bogged down by it all or cynical. It's do-able.

  5. This post really touches deep inside me. It is true that what we keep inside us and hide even from ourselves, will eat away at the good and allows the bad to take over us. Soon we choose to lurk in shadow rather than bask in the light. Let it out and live free! Let the light shine upon you and the misery will lift.

  6. Indeed, shadow left unheeded can leave us miserable or leave others miserable.