By Marian Friedrichs (Apr 14, 2013)
For me, one of the most challenging passages in St. Faustina's Diary is this instruction from our Lord: "Do not defend yourself when you are put to shame, though innocent" (Diary, 1701).
I once read Mother Teresa's list of methods for growing in humility, in which she encouraged that same quiet acceptance of unjust accusation. Saint Therese the Little Flower embraced this practice as a matter of habit, meekly listening to misdirected rebukes and asking forgiveness for others' mistakes.
Every time I encounter this idea, I have the same reaction. I cringe, wanting to pretend I never heard it or to explain to myself why it may have been an appropriate act of piety for these super-saints but could not possibly be expected of insignificant, unsaintly me. When I take this attitude, however, I deny the very reason why God and the Church lift up the saints: so that we may know them, pray to them, and, ultimately, emulate them. After all, the saints are seated at God's feet, basking in the splendor of heaven, needing nothing to add to their joy. Our devotions to them benefit only ourselves. I read the Diary, for instance, because I hope to become more like its author. And yet sometimes, as when I read the passage above, I'm not so sure.
For beings known to inflict myriad injustices on one another, we are very quick to object to any perceived injustice against ourselves. One of the first and favorite complete sentences used by little children is, "That's not fair!" While Jesus did tell us that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we have to admit, if we're honest with ourselves, that much of our crying out against unfair accusations stems from concern for our own egos, not a pure thirst for justice in the world.
About two years ago, I noticed that one of my seventh graders was missing from class. As I had been told to do, I called the health office and told the person who answered the phone that this boy was gone. Then I left a voice mail for the assistant principal. As it turned out, this student had left school grounds and gone to a friend's house.
The next morning, I walked into the school and was confronted by the nurse, who loudly berated me for not calling her about the situation. Apparently, no one had known the boy was missing until the assistant principal finally listened to her voice mail some time later. Shocked, I told the nurse that I had called her office and told someone. She flatly contradicted me, swearing that no one in her office had spoken to me. Later, I tried desperately to find out who had answered my call, but I never did.
The principal told me not to worry about it, that everyone else believed me, but I did worry about it. To this day, every time I see the school nurse I squirm resentfully under the knowledge that she thinks I'm responsible for that boy's cutting school and that I lied about it to save face. The fact that it still bothers me after all this time probably demonstrates the reason for Jesus' words to St. Faustina. When we can accept blame we don't deserve, we develop the virtue of humility by letting go of what other people think of us. Jesus wanted St. Faustina to rely only on His evaluation of her, not anyone else's, and on His defense of her, not her own.
During their lifetimes, St. Faustina, Blessed Mother Teresa, and St. Therese were thought weak, stupid, fanatical, and pretentious; yet they never said a word to defend themselves. Why? We find the answer in the next sentence Jesus spoke to St. Faustina in that Diary passage: "I Myself will speak up for you when it is necessary" (Diary, 1701).
The moment of our judgment is the only time we need to be really concerned about someone else's opinion, for it is the only time our worth will be measured by One whose flawless, omniscient vision sees every part of us and who has the true authority to determine our goodness. Until that moment, He asks us to be free of anxiety about what others think, trusting only in His love that moves Him to cover the many sins we have committed with His Divine Mercy (and, remembering this, to judge others gently and with compassion in our turn). Saint Faustina wrote, "I do not defend myself, but entrust myself all the more to God, who sees within me" (Diary, 1727).
Is it always appropriate to resist defending ourselves? Perhaps not. That's why we must pray for guidance. Is it easy to resist defending ourselves when that resistance is appropriate? Absolutely not. That's why we must pray for grace. And during the long, slow process of learning to crucify our egos, we can draw comfort and help from the saints who walked that same painful, arduous road to Calvary and who can testify to the glorious resurrection that awaits us on the other side of the grave.