Dominica XVIII post Pentecosten - Spiritual Life (Knowledge of God and Knowledge of Self)

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PRESENTATION: Why this knowledge is necessary.

This week we consider the second necessary interior means of perfection, the Knowledge of God and the Knowledge of Self; since it is quite a large topic, we will launch right into it.
Since perfection ultimately consists in the union of the soul with God, then it becomes obvious that we need to be well acquainted with both God and ourselves. The knowledge of God will lead us directly to love; the knowledge of ourselves should engender both gratitude for the good gifts with which God has endowed us and humility by recognizing our faults.
In order to love God, it is necessary to first know Him. The more profound our consideration of His perfections, the more ardent our love for Him will be. Thus, to first of all answer the question of what we must know about God, the simple answer is we must know whatever can make us love Him more. We must know of His existence, His nature, His attributes, His works, and above all, we must know about His inner life and His relationship with us.
Considerations like St. Thomas’ five proofs for the existence of God might seem quite abstract, but they are a storehouse of inexhaustible treasures leading to divine love. Holy souls delight above all in the contemplation of revealed truths which give us insight into God’s Divine life, the Most Holy Trinity. Most obvious for our reflection would be the Incarnation, the Divine life communicated through Christ to His Church, and the promise of sharing the Divine life for all eternity.
While the knowledge of God leads us directly to love Him, the knowledge of self helps to disclose the absolute need we Have of God in order to perfect the qualities with which He has endowed us and to help heal our faults and imperfections.
If we lack self-knowledge, it is morally impossible to perfect ourselves because we will entertain illusions about ourselves. Either we will fall into a presumptuous optimism that makes us believe we are already perfect, or at least okay just as we are, or it will lead to discouragement that causes us to exaggerate our faults. In either case, it leads to inaction, lack of effort, and carelessness.
An honest and accurate knowledge of ourselves, on the other hand, is an incentive to perfection. The good qualities we discover move us to thank God and cooperate with His grace. Our defects and the realization of our helplessness show us how much we have yet to accomplish and how important it is to make use of every opportunity to advance.

EXPLANATION: What we must know.

Because God is infinitely good, He wills to communicate Himself to other beings, which He does by creating and sanctifying us. By creation, we are God’s servants, which in itself is a high honour and a cause for wonder, gratitude, and love. God, from all eternity, has chosen me out of billions of possible beings in order to bring me into existence and bestow on me life and the ability to know Him. But He did not stop there; He calls me to share in His own divine life. He adopted me as a child and has destined me to share His life for all eternity.
Through the fault of our first parents, we lost our right to this sharing in divine life, and we did not have the power to regain it. But the Son of God sees our plight, becomes a man like us, and makes us members of His mystical body. He atones for our sins by His Cross, reconciling us to God, and once again infuses His divine life into our souls.
To facilitate this union, Christ remains among us. He abides with us through His Church that transmits His teachings and through His Sacraments, mysterious channels of grace giving divine life. He dwells among us above all in the Holy Eucharist, where He perpetuates His Presence, His mercy, and His sacrifice. He willingly imprisons Himself in the Tabernacle, where we can visit Him, converse with Him, glorify Him and the Most Holy Trinity, find health for our spiritual ills, and consolation in our sorrows.
This is but a small sampling of what we can know about God, which offers us so many reasons to love Him.
Turning to ourselves, to be profitable, we must come to know all that is ours, our qualities and defects, natural and supernatural gifts, like and dislikes, our personal history, our faults, our efforts, and our progress, all of which needs to be studied, not in a pessimistic frame of mind, but with impartiality, and with a right conscience enlightened by faith.
We should then candidly, without any false humility, discern what are the good qualities that Almighty God has given to us to thank the Giver and to cultivate those gifts. This field is vast, comprising all our natural and supernatural gifts, those things which come directly from God, and those we have received through our parents, those we owe to Christian education, and those that are the result of our own efforts sustained by grace.
At the same time, we must face with courage our miseries and faults. We come from nothing and ever return to it. We can accomplish no good thing without the grace of God. Drawn to evil by the threefold concupiscence, we have added new strength to our evil tendencies by our sins and by the evil habits resulting from them. We must humbly acknowledge this fact and, without losing heart, set to work with the help of divine grace to heal these wounds by the practice of virtue.

IMPLICATION: How we gain this knowledge.

There are three principal means at our disposal to acquire knowledge of God:
the devout study of philosophy and theology,
mental prayer
and the habit of seeing God in all things.
We can study philosophy and theology in two ways, with the mind or with the mind and heart. When St. Thomas plunged into the depths of the great philosophical and theological questions, he did not do so as a Greek sage would but as a disciple and lover of Christ. The devout theologian will know how to rise from the contemplation of truth to acts of adoration, wonder, gratitude, and love, which spring spontaneously from the study of Christian dogmas.
Meditation must accompany study. We must make Christian truth the subject of our prayer; then, the light of faith, under the influence of grace, will take us to heights that intellect alone could never reach. God speaks more readily in the silent peacefulness of prayer, where His Word enlightens the mind, enkindles the heart, and sets the will in action.
Finally, the repeated and affectionate remembrance of God is a prolongation of the effects of mental prayer. Frequent thoughts of God increase our love for Him, and this love deepens our knowledge. Then we begin to acquire the habit of rising more easily from the creature to the Creator and seeing God in all His works. All creatures, to a greater or lesser degree, are an image of God; all proclaim God as their maker and invite us to join in praise of Him. All events, good and bad, are designed in the mind of God to perfect our supernatural life; everything can profit our sanctification.
Self-knowledge is difficult to attain; we are so often attracted by outward things that we hardly care to enter into ourselves to scrutinize our inner world, but a bit of knowledge leads to more, and this prepares the way for deeper insight.
The singular means for obtaining self-knowledge is the examination of conscience. In order to perform this examination well, we must, first of all, invoke the light of the Holy Ghost, who, by giving us the Gift of Knowledge, helps us to know ourselves and leads us to God. Next, we must bring before us the perfect Exemplar, Christ, whom we must resemble more and more every day. By the light of contrast between ourselves and our Divine Model, our faults and imperfections will be more clearly discerned.
Then comes the moment to enter into our inmost soul. From outward actions, we pass to the hidden causes from which they spring. Then we must ask ourselves whether it was wilful, whether performed with full consciousness of its malice and full consent of the will. To be even more impartial, it is good to place ourselves in the presence of the Sovereign Judge and hear Him say to us, “Render an account of your stewardship.” But we should not become disheartened because Christ is also the Healer of souls.
Knowledge of God should inspire us to carefully avoid sin, stimulate our zeal for perfection, inspire greater trust in Him in the midst of our trials and temptations, and fill us with the joy of the Elect who have been promised eternal life. Knowledge of self should do the same. Together they should promote within us an intimate and affectionate union between the soul and God. He is infinite perfection, and we are absolute poverty; He has all that we need, and we need all that He has. He stoops down to surround us with His love and His gifts, and we move toward Him, who alone can supply for our deficiencies and weaknesses.
Our thirst for happiness and for love is quenched only in Him, Who, with His love, satisfies our heart and its longings, giving us both perfection and joy.
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