Friday, October 2, 2009

Know Thyself from Father Benedict Hughes

St. John the Evangelist points out that our three-fold enemy is the world, the flesh, and the devil. Of these, our most powerful adversary is our own fallen human nature. Our tendencies towards evil — whether in the form of pride, jealousy, anger, lust, sloth, covetousness, or whatever it may be — cause us more problems than the devil. We like to blame the devil, but we give him more credit than he deserves, for most of the trouble does not come from him so much as from our fallen human nature.

If, as St. Paul says, we are involved in the battle of the spirit against the flesh, how is the spirit going to win, which it must if we are to save our souls? Number one: vigilance. We must never let down our guard, we must never think that we’ve made it. Our fallen human nature may seem to be dead, but it is just lying low. In a moment of weakness, in a moment when we least expect it, it raises its ugly head, and, because of our lack of vigilance, we fall — and we fall miserably — into sin.

Even the great Apostle St. Paul had to fight this spiritual battle. In one of his Epistles, he speaks of “a sting of the flesh” that buffeted him. Most authors believe that it was a temptation against purity. I find this consoling. Does this sound strange? I find it comforting that even St. Paul had severe temptations and struggles, because this realization helps us understand that we are not evil because we are tempted. It simply means that we are human beings and that God is testing us. If there is no temptation, no struggle, why should there be a reward?

In order to get anywhere in the spiritual life, we must first of all find out what it is. What is your particular weakness? The term used in the spiritual life for this is the predominant fault. You discover your predominant fault by doing two things: 1) praying for the grace to see it 2) examining your conscience every night before retiring. This is done by going over the day and thinking about where you have been and what you have done, what you have thought about, what you have said and done, in order to discover in what ways you may have offended almighty God. Over time you will see a pattern, of things that you do over and over, even though you have resolved to change. There it is, your predominant fault. It’s the one that you must especially attack. As with a row of dominoes, once the first one falls, all the others follow. It’s the same way in your spiritual life. If you discover your predominant fault and you work at trying to overcome it, if you completely eradicate it, everything else will be easy.

There is no sin, no fault, no failing that cannot be overcome. Some people think that they will never overcome their predominant fault, so they don’t even try. But something that actually is impossible to overcome cannot be a sin. A sin is something that is forbidden by the law of God that we do intentionally. We are free to either do it or not do it. Our freedom may be, so to speak, greatly reduced by the fact that we formed a bad habit. Nevertheless, we are still free.

So this is what we mean by knowledge of self. What are we, really? We have that physical life, the life of grace, but we also have a life of sin, of tendency to sin. And you may be a Catholic striving to live his or her faith, but if it were not for the grace of God, you could not do any of that. So let us be humble. Let us pray for the grace to know ourselves better day after day, and once we know ourselves and we know our faults, let us strive to overcome them, because my dear friends, that is a life-long task. We will never get to the point where the work is done, and we can sit down and relax. We must die, as St. Paul says it, we must die to ourselves daily. And who better to help us do that but our Blessed Mother.

(Excerpts from "Know Thyself" Father Benedict Hughes CMRI

1 comment:

Ariel said...

Thank you Father Benedict for this article..