Tag Archives: self-knowledge

Knowing Yourself

NEW YORK TIMES columnist David Brooks has gotten a lot of attention lately for his suggestion that we need more humility in our society today. We need to know ourselves. We need to look to those who knew themselves and learn from them, Brooks say.

We may thing that humility stops you from doing anything, except hide in a corner away from the storm. Just the opposite, the humble take on large challenges, because they recognize another power at work besides themselves.

St. Gregory the Great, a 6th century pope, was called great for his humble service to the Roman world that was falling down around him. Gregory ends one of his finest commentaries on scripture, called the Moralia, a Commentary on the Book of Job, with words that reveal someone not afraid to honestly know himself.

“Now that I have finished this work, I have to look at myself. We are so complex, even when we try speaking the truth. Let me go from the forum of words to the senate house of my heart, to take council about myself.

I don’t want to speak anything evil or speak poorly about what is good.

I wish my words please the One is good.  Yet, can I claim I have spoken no evil at all? Have I spoken less well than I should, perhaps? When I look within, pushing aside leafy words and branches of arguments, and examine my deepest intentions, I know I intend to please God, but has some desire for human praise crept in? Has it intruded into my simple desire to please God?

Later, much later, I may realize this. Often, our intentions to please God are joined by a secret yen for human praise. Self-righteously, we even use God’s gifts to please others.

So in my commentary I reveal God’s gifts, but let me confess my wounds too. Let me instruct the little ones by my words, but let others take pity on my weakness. I offer help to some and seek help from others. As I tell some what to do, I open my heart to others to admit what they should forgive.  I give medicine to some, but do not hide my wounds from others. My reader will have more than paid me back if, for what he hears from me, he offers his tears for me.”

A humble man.

Thinking About Yourself

Letter 160, St. Paul of the Cross

As you  look at what you’re going through, don’t philosophize and reflect  so much about yourself. Stop thinking about yourself and just do what’s right. Love God’s Will and stay beneath the Holy Cross without getting involved in useless subtleties. By thinking too much about yourself, you lose sight of the Sovereign Good.

With regard to prayer, if you can’t put in much time, it’s not important. You always pray by doing what is right.”

Work around the house, do what you have to do there, and be attentive to God by frequently plunging your spirit into the immense sea of divine love, but don’t check up minutely whether this plunge was done well. I repeat, go about doing good simply as children do…

Take care of your health, eat what’s necessary, and get the sleep you need. In that way you build up your strength, if that is God’s wish and for your good.

The Gift of Mercy

Lk 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus goes up a mountain to teach his disciples. In Luke’s gospel, read on the Monday of the 2nd week of lent, the mountain is the place where Jesus prays with them. Then he descends and teaches them at length about loving others, especially one’s enemies.

We can hear his words as an extension of the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”

Notice what mercy means. It means not judging, not condemning, being forgiving. However, mercy does not stop there, it goes on to give gifts to the other. That’s the way God shows mercy. Like the father of the prodigal son, whom Luke describes later on in his gospel, God not only forgives but offers sinners a feast of unearned graces– “bring a robe–the best one–and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and scandals on his feet.”

God doesn’t ration mercy or hedge it around with caution. He doesn’t keep remembering anyone’s wrong.

St Bernard says that the merciful “are those who see the truth in their neighbor and reach out in compassion and identify in love with them, responding to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were their own.” Seeing the truth in our neighbor means, of course, seeing  human frailty, misguided dreams, selfishness and sinfulness in others and recognizing that truth in  ourselves. Mercy begins by knowing yourself.