I have many vices.
One of them is judgment.
For example, I will be at mass and I will find myself silently cataloging the perceived impiety of those around me. "I can't believe they wore shorts THAT short to Church!" "Look a that person not genuflecting before entering a pew."
I remember there was a priest at my parish who would go through the liturgy of the Eucharist at lightning speed. So obviously I determined that he did not have nearly the reverence for the mass that I did. But then one day during mass, out of nowhere during the prayers, he stopped and said:
"Just so you know, we are in the majestic presence of God at this moment. When I say the Eucharistic prayers, I imagine that we, all of us, are before the throne of God Almighty. And surrounding us are thousands of angels singing and praising God. Because that is what is happening."
It was an important moment when the Lord reminded me that I cannot see into the souls of others and that I have been projecting my own ugly imagination on others. So to combat this I have tried to imagine the souls of those around me as bright, shining things that are glorious before God.
But this got me thinking about my own soul.
When I try to visualize my soul, I do not often see something that I like. I am not being falsely humbly nor am I fishing for consoling compliments. My wife can tell you that I often fear for my inner most self. But when I try to put a concrete image to my soul, I am stuck with one image: Gollum.
I see something a little wretched, but mostly bent and weak. The health of the soul to which we should all aspire I see lacking in me. I remember Gandalf saying of him: "He hates and loves the ring as he hates and loves himself."
That is not a bad understanding of my own view of my soul. I am disgusted by my own sinfulness. And yet I am so filled with self-centeredness and self love that I do not seem to grow beyond my own comfort-seeking habits. Sin is my One Ring. I hate it, but I cannot seem to let it go. I don't hold to the Tony Soprano measure of salvation "Hell? That's for [child molesters] and people like that." Well I'm not a child molester or murderer, but I think about how much love God has for me, all the good that is given to me in my life, and I see a black hole in my soul that is only concerned with doing what pleases it.
What bothers me is that I have a hard time seeing something so malformed having a place in heaven.
My biggest fear is damnation. There are nights when I look into my soul and wonder if it is destined for the eternal rubbish heap. Forgive me if I sound overly dramatic and maudlin. I don't hang my head in sorrow day after day waiting for the abyss. I am generally, I think, not a depressed person. But I have to be honest: in the deepest moments of the night, when you can really feel the darkness around you, I am often gripped by that fear.
And yet, like Gollum, I think that might soul might inspire some pity from on high.
I almost titled this post: "Will Walter White Get to Heaven."
Bear with me. I find that in many movies and TV shows there are very immoral and evil characters. And yet even in these I sometimes feel a swell of pity for them. I think of Walter White and how he does so much evil for his family. And even at the end of Breaking Bad, I still felt for him. I know he is fictional, but the idea of a person like him entering everlasting damnation makes me sad. There was still something, no matter how small, that was good in him.
Is that small grain of goodness enough to anchor a soul to heaven?
In the movie Red Dragon, Ralph Fiennes plays a horribly vicious serial killer who falls in love with a blind girl. She is told towards the end, "You reached the last part of him that was still human." Is that enough for God? Michael Corleone spends the whole of Godfather III trying to hold onto the last fragments of his soul. Darth Vader mass murdered children and Luke was able to save him.
I know that all of the above examples are fictional, but even at our worst isn't there still a Divine spark of goodness. And if I can feel for someone who does evil, doesn't the Lord, who is Love Itself, look at them with even greater affection?
So how does God see my soul? He loves me, but sin is abhorrent to God. And yet He is not my accuser. Satan is my accuser. I have to be careful not to fall into the trap of unnecessary guilt. Some guilt is good if it gets me to repent. But if all that guilt does is drive me to despair, then that feeling is not of God. But Jesus said that "God sent His Son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might have life through Him." That is why He sent us the Holy Spirit not as our prosecutor, but our Advocate.
He wants me to do better. I hope He looks at the Smeagol of my soul with pity. I hope He looks at me like a small, disobedient child. He does not want me to continue in my bad behavior, but He understands that I am trying.
But in the end, even though Frodo tried to save him, Gollum chose a course that plunged him into the fiery pits. He could not give up his ring.