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The False Martyr Complex

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I have a real life incident seared into my memory that has become a symbol for a common type of piety that I call a  false martyr complex. A dear friend stood in a communion line, head bowed, shoulders slumped, one  arm across her chest with her hand clenched as she struck her heart. At first appearances she was a picture of perfect piety, a soul in torment, burdened by her sin, suffering in reparation.  Yet, she had stood like this for years if not decades with little change.  As I stood in the opposite line, I did something spontaneous and rather shocking; I bent my knees, leaned over, caught her eye, smiled and waved! My child like behaviour actually worked momentarily. She straightened up, smiled, with twinkling eyes and snapped out of her false, martyr complex for a few minutes at least, nearly laughing out loud in church.
My friend was not as holy as she appeared to be, even though she lived a devout, disciplined, ascetic lifestyle. Her life was a daily round of mass, rosaries, E…