Aiming for Truth; Reflecting the Truth
In the first of the Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry discovers a storage room with a special mirror in it. It was called the “Mirror of Erised,” and its magical property consisted in showing the one looking at it their heart’s deepest desire – what they wanted the most. The school’s headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, explained to Harry that “the happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.” The idea of the mirror is that it would show what you most wanted to see or to achieve; a person who was completely content would see only themselves. It showed neither truth nor knowledge; only desire or ambition; and it was dangerous to linger before it. “Men have wasted away before it,” Dumbledore tells Harry, “not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.”
Ambition can be a good thing, as it motivates us to achieve. However, it can also trap us and lead us into all sorts of trouble and misery. St. James knew this, and today he tells us, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make wars within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.” Ambition can consume the one who clings to it, as well as cause suffering for those around the ambitious person. But ambition is connected to something else – a deadly sin: envy. And St. James is on to this problem as well. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”
So much suffering is caused by disordered ambition and jealousy. So much of our unhappiness comes from our inability to achieve unrealistic goals of beauty, success, fame, fortune, and all sorts of other benchmarks that we set for ourselves and others. The desire to keep up with others, to have what they have, to be who they are, inevitably leads us down a road of depression and self-destruction – and we can also cause hurt to others along that way. This is what bothers the “wicked” who are spoken of in the First Reading. They set themselves in opposition to “the just one” and end up opposing the truth itself. Their desire for control, domination, and autonomy (that is, freedom from outside rules) leads them to wickedness.
Saint Augustine has something to say about this. He taught, “[The truth is that which] every rational soul does indeed consult, but it reveals itself to each according to his capacity to grasp it by reason of the good or evil dispositions of his will…. If the soul is sometimes mistaken, this does not come about because of any defect on the part of the truth it consulted, just as it is not through any defect in the light outside us that our bodily eyes are often deceived.” What we desire often determines what we will, and if our will is bad – if our aim is bad – then we will not see what is true, and disorder will follow.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true: aiming at the truth, willing the true good, enables you to see the truth, which allows you to act in accordance with the truth and to become someone who does that naturally – that is, you become a good person. For us, that truth is a Person, it is Jesus, and He is the center of our lives around which our actions should revolve. Growing more and more into His likeness is the task of the disciple, and it requires us to set aside ourselves (as Jesus said last week, we must die to ourselves).
He illustrates this truth today as He teaches about His own death, His self-giving love. However, the disciples cannot hear this, they cannot see the truth of His words. Why, because of their disordered desires, their ambitions – revealed in their argument over who was the greatest.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot live according to our own self-interests and expect to be happy ultimately. We cannot concern ourselves with titles, power, and privileges. Only by setting our minds and hearts on the true Good – that wisdom from above which is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits – only then can we see the good that we are meant to pursue, and the peace that God wills for us. Ambition, jealousy, competition draw us away from that Good; they cloud our vision, like looking into a dirty mirror. Jesus looks at us, and we look at Him, and there we see the true reflection of our vocation. Jesus shows us who and what we must be: humble, like a child, self-giving, and focused on the only Good that can bring us true happiness.
If we were to look into the Mirror of Erised, what would we see? Well, we don’t need a magical mirror; we have Jesus who reveals the truth to us because He is the Truth. When we open ourselves to that Truth, we begin anew on the path to true happiness and meaning.