St. Paul was very aware that all of us have a “hidden self” and a “public self.” He knew that there is a part of the self that is known only to the self. And that there is a part of the self that is known only to the outside world.
The public self is the self we are aware of. It is the part of self we are conscious of. It is the part of the self that we easily reveal to the world. We want to anchor it in the world around us. We generally want others to meet it.
The public self is the part of self that we comfortably own. We are in touch with it. We are familiar with it. We can talk about the public self and want others to like it and admire it. It is the part of self that we want others to meet and greet. “The willing is ready at hand but doing the good is not” (Rom 7:18).
The public self and the hidden self are very strongly connected. They possess interconnecting subtleties. The intensity of the positive qualities in the public self often has a correlation with the intensity of the negative qualities in the hidden self.
Often what the public self dislikes in others is already buried in the hidden self. The hidden self often winds up repelling the people with whom the public self wants to connect. This can emerge as turbulence and rage in our interpersonal relationships.
The hidden self is the private part of self. It is the part of self that we are unaware of. It is the part of the self that is outside our consciousness. It is the part of self that is often invisible to us while blatantly visible to others. It is often the part of self we do not want to display.
The hidden self is the part of the self that influences much of our behavior. It is the sanctuary where we hide our hidden negative emotions. It is where we hide our secrets, our shame, our guilt, our fears, our anger, our resentments and our hostilities.
The hidden self is the repository of all the negative stuff we dislike about ourselves. It is the shame and doubt; it is the anxiety and the panic; it is the turmoil and confusion; it is the greed and avarice. “It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom 7:20).
The hidden self is the part of the self that we don’t want others to see. We are too threatened by the hidden self to have it in awareness. We are embarrassed by it and ashamed of it. At the same time it can cause us to act out in a way that is contrary to our intended behavior.
We hide the hidden self and run away from it. We want to cover it. We want to conceal it. We do not want to own it. We are often not in touch with it. Denial is our coping strategy. This can ostensibly provide relief. But, as we know so well, this strategy works only for a while.
St. Paul was mystified by the power of the hidden self. He saw the hidden self in tension with the public self. He saw an inner uncomfortable ambiguity in himself. He saw the hidden self in conflict with the public self. He saw the hidden self at odds with the public self. “I do not do what I want to do, but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15).
Here, St. Paul is uncommonly transparent about the tension between the two selves. The two selves are not at all in sync with one another. There is a proclivity to do good, and a there is a proclivity to do evil. He walks a perilous tightrope. The two splitting tendencies co-exist for him and all of us.
St. Paul, like us, feels pushed in different directions. There is an excruciating pull of opposing forces. There is a barrage of conflicting emotions. The conflict is real, and the conflict is great. The conflict is felt, and the conflict is faced. When the distress and pain become almost overwhelming, he cries out “Miserable man that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (Rom 7:24).
It is after this confession to the Christians in Rome that St. Paul awakens to the power and presence of the Spirit in his life. Fortified with this new awareness, along with his newly found self-knowledge, he can now embark on a journey of integration and wholeness. He feels and sees the Spirit of the Risen Christ freeing him from “sin and death” (Rom 8:2).
The invitation is not to despair with pessimism because of the struggle. The invitation is not to feel hopelessness about surviving the inner turmoil and stress. The invitation is to rise from the ashes of the inner battle and torments to the joys of Easter.
And I can cope with the inner turmoil and inner conflict by honestly and courageously embracing and facing the two selves while, at the same time, relying on the grace that is mine because of Good Friday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning. TP
Msgr. Morgan is pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Cherry Hill, N.J.