I recently engaged in correspondence with a young man who indicated that he had committed horrific sins and could not even bring himself to anonymously confess to a priest. Though I cannot reveal more about the situation, his sins would cause most to recoil and I believe he is now in prison for one particularly horrific crime. In corresponding with him it is not hard to imagine that his sins had begun in much less consequential form as a young man but grew to horrific proportion. Somewhere along the line he fell into the trap of keeping his inner struggles with sin and temptation a secret. The secret sheltered the growth of the sin in his heart as it played out in his life until it grew to the point of an astounding destructive power in his life, and the lives of others. His situation ended up far worse than most but reveals the complete havoc the enemy can work in the soul that he can isolate in silence.
The challenge is that the sins that beg for silence are often those that can bring great shame or extreme difficulty upon their admission or revelation. This is one of the reasons this tool is so powerful. The enemy will leverage pride and envy in the soul and remind the victim (and the perpetrator) of the consequences of revealing their sins or suffering. Even worse, people of good-will around the victim can fall into the trap of amplifying the power of this tool when they subtly or overtly resist the revelation of suffering and sin around them. This happens when someone attempts to reveal their struggle and is met with discomfort or disapproval. Thus the double sting of this soul-destroying tactic. The isolation is further solidified, and the sin and temptation grows in the victim.
Here’s how St. Ignatius reveals the sting of this secret silence in his thirteenth rule of spiritual discernment, “…likewise he (the enemy) conducts himself as a false lover in wishing to remain secret and not be revealed. For a dissolute man who, speaking with evil intention, makes dishonorable advances to a daughter of a good father or a wife of a good husband, wishes his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him very much, when the daughter reveals to her father, or the wife to her husband his false words and depraved intention, because he easily perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun. In the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to one’s good confessor or to another spiritual person, who knows his deceits and malicious designs, it weighs on him very much, because he perceives that he will not be able to succeed with the malicious undertaking he has begun, since his manifest deceits have been revealed.”
So how can we break this powerful bond of the enemy? There are a few key practices (offered in order of effectiveness) that not only weaken the power of this tactic but can render it almost completely useless against us:
- Regular Confession: Some fall into the trap of only going to confession after committing mortal sin. This robs the penitent of the sin-battling/virtue-enabling grace conveyed in the sacrament. Infrequent confession also allows the will of an advancing soul to become weak with respect to the frank and open dealing with sin. Regular confession strengthens our ability to articulate our challenges and reveal areas where sin and the enemy are attempting to gain a foothold in our lives.
- Spiritual Direction: In authentic spiritual direction the directee freely divulges the inner workings of their soul to their director. This regular commitment and practice of transparency also strengthens our will and skill at revealing the challenges we face.
- Spiritual Friendships: In the place of, or as a supplement to, spiritual direction spiritual friendships that have accountability as a central theme can provide some of the similar benefits as spiritual direction.
- Journaling/Writing: Sometimes when we get stuck because of shame or our own disposition to introversion or whatever the impediment, we can find it difficult to articulate our struggles on the spot with another person. In these cases it can be helpful to write out our struggles before meeting with a friend, director, or confessor. This approach also allows for the measured revelation of difficult issues that might otherwise be overwhelming emotionally.
With these shields of faithfulness in hand, the devil’s secret of silence will face great difficulty finding a place in your soul.
Dan Burke is the Executive Director of the National Catholic Register and author of Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.
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