A reflection by Fulton J. Sheen.
We can never be a true friend of anyone whom we do not know unless we know ourselves. Few of us really know ourselves, and few ever want to know. We imagine ourselves to be very different from what we are. We wear a mask in public but seldom take it off when we are alone. Hence we think that our critics always misjudge us. We believe our friends are right when they praise us, and wrong when they criticize us. Most of our acquaintances could tell us faults about ourselves which we would deny most vociferously, and yet they might be only too true.
Know Thyself--For a good reason, therefore, the Greeks inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the injunction: "Know thyself." Plutarch added: "If the Know thyself of the oracle were an easy thing for every man, it would not be held to be a divine injunction: The Divine Savior, in telling the story of the Prodigal Son, marked the moment of the latters conversion with the words: "Coming to his senses".
Self-knowledge is not intellectual, but moral. It falls not within the domain of psychology, but theology. It is concerned not with what we think, but with our motives and the hidden springs of life and action.
Self-examination must be done in the presence of God. We must compare ourselves not with our neighbor, nor with our own subjective ideals, but with the Perfect. How often in life we stand self-revealed by coming in contact with a noble life. In self-examination, it is God and not man who makes us enter into ourselves. As Simeon said when he held the Babe: "This child is set ... that out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34, 35) In that wondrous Presence there can be room neither for hidden pride nor barren hopelessness.
Bewilderment--The neurotic, the bewildered, and the disillusioned are today flocking to psychoanalysts to have their minds analyzed, when what they really need is to go to God to have their sins forgiven. There can be no health of soul or body while there is a moral conflict within. The modern mind thought it got rid of hell but found it within. A psychoanalyst can sublimate; God alone can give peace. As Dr. Jung, the celebrated psychoanalyst, admitted: "About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be described as the general neurosis of our time. A considerable number of patients came to see me, not because they were suffering from neuroses, but because they were finding no meaning in life."
Lives are disordered and unhappy because they are multiple. Like broken mirrors, they reflect a hundred different objects, but no single purpose which could give unity to life. Our Lord asked the name of the devil who possessed the soul of the young man, and the devil answered: "Legion." He had lost his unity.
One of the reasons of this tension within is because we have never settled absolutely for ourselves whether our body or our soul should dominate. If we concentrate on the pleasures of the body, we surrender the joys of the soul. If we concentrate on the soul, we make the body its servant, and therefore a sharer in the joys of the soul. So long as we are without a goal of living, we are like a radio tuned in to two different stations, getting no harmony but only static, no enjoyment but only a feeling of irritation.
Goal of livingWhat is the goal of human living? That question has already been answered: To attain Perfect Life without death, Truth without error, and Love without hate or satietywhich is God. A man is happy when he fulfills the end for which he is made. Creatures of all kinds-gold, food, machinery, flesh, money-are means to attain God. It is making them the ends of life which constitutes selfishness and causes sin and disorder. This comes so easily to our fallen natures, that we must constantly be on our guard. To this end, a self-examination should be made every night before retiring and should be followed by a prayer expressing sorrow for our sins, asking God for forgiveness, and resolving to amend our ways and to do penance for the sins we have committed. This examination can be very brief. It should revolve around the seven capital sins, the seven pallbearers of the soul:
Pride is an inordinate love of one's own excellence and, as such, it dethrones God from the soul and enthrones "I." "No God, no Master. I am God. I am my own Lord." Every proud person takes himself too seriously. Human beings are like sponges. Each human being can stand so much honor, as a sponge can hold so much water. Both quickly reach a point of saturation. When a sponge passes that point, it drips; when a man passes that point, the honor wears him instead of him wearing the honor. Do I ever practice humility or recognize the truth about myself ? "Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: And you shall find rest to your souls." (Matthew 11:29)
Avarice is the inordinate love of earthly goods. Undue love of money gives a man a "heart of gold,"cold and yellow. Do I seek wealth regardless of the rights of others? Do I realize that on the day of my death the only possessions I really will have will be those I gave away, for their merit will still be with me? "Seek first the kingdom of God..."
Envy is discontent with anothers good, a mentality which is cast down at anothers good, as if it were an affront to our own superiority. Do I assert my envy by "running down" others by innuendo, half-truths, fault-finding, or by attributing to them false motives. "But if you bite and devour one another: take heed you be not consumed one of another." (Galatians 5:15)
Angerunjust anger is a violent and inordinate desire to punish others, and is often accompanied by hatred which seeks not only to repel aggression, but to take revenge. Do I realize that being quickly aroused to anger is a sign of selfishness, and that my character is known from the things I hate? If I love God, I will hate sin; If I love sin, I will hate religion. "Judge not that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1)
Gluttony, the abuse of the lawful pleasure God has attached to eating and drinking, which are necessary conditions of self-preservation. It becomes sinful when it incapacitates us for the fulfillment of our duties, injures our health, endangers the interests of others, or when, for Catholics, it breaks the laws of fast and abstinence. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Sloth is a malady of the will which causes us to neglect our duties. It is physical sloth when it manifests itself in laziness, procrastination, idleness and indifference. It is spiritual sloth when it shows a distaste for the things of the spirit, a hurrying of devotions, a religious luke-warmness and a failure to cultivate new virtues. "And withal being idle, they learn to go about from house to house: and are not only idle, but tattlers also, and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." (Timothy 5:I3)
Lust is an inordinate love of the pleasures of the flesh. Lust is not sexfor sex is purely biological and is a God-given capacity; nor is it love, which finds one of its lawful expressions in sex. God also attached great pleasure to the marital act in order that social life and the Kingdom of God might be preserved.
Pleasure becomes sinful when used as an exclusive end rather than a means. Lust, for that reason, is perverted love. It looks not to the good of the other, but to the pleasure of self. It breaks the glass that holds the wine, and smashes the lute to snare the music.
Honesty is a burden only to those who have lost the sense of others rights, and purity a burden for the same reason. "Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelt in you?" (I Corinthians 3:16) "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service." (Romans 12:1)
Condensed from Love One Another by Rt. Rev. Fulton J. Sheen, (1895-1979). ©1944 P. J. Kenedy & Sons, N.Y. Books by the late Archbishop Sheen still in print include: From the Angels Blackboard , Isbn # 0892439254 and Life is Worth Living, Isbn # 0385145101. A topical compilationof the wit, wisdom, and satire of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, read The Quoteable Fulton Sheen Isbn # 0-385-26226-4>1095