Thursday, 28 August 2014

Humility, Direction, Providence on St. Augustine's Day

For the Catholic, humility is the great step on the road to holiness. No one can be holy without humility, without the death of the ego. One thing shared by many of the Catholic writers on holiness is that humility is found in times of trials, such as the Dark Night.

Saints, from the Evangelists, to St. John Paul II,  have sung the songs of the beauty of humility. Perhaps the most famous treatise on humility is St. Benedict's rule concerning the steps to humility, followed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux's commentary on Benedict's text.

But, in more modern times, we have been given this reminder about humility from one of the earliest sermons of St. John Paul II in his long papacy.

So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.

His words remind me of St. Augustine's great call to know one' self, and that only in self-knowledge can one actually come to know God.

St. John Paul II was lamenting the fact that so few people in the then, 20th Century, did not know themselves, do not know what it means to be human.

Without self-knowledge, one cannot achieve humility. We see so many Catholics wallowing in egotism, unable to really see themselves as they are, not willing to confront sin and the status of creatureliness, which is the truth of our existence.

Only, as St. John Paul II notes, in humility and trust, can we face ourselves, and then, God.  

Self-knowledge is like the rudder in the ship of our soul. Without self-knowledge and humility, there is no control over the direction of our lives. We are literally tossed to and fro. Direction comes from the knowledge of who one is as a human with a soul, which is the form of the body.

Direction is sadly missing in so many lives, as people try this or that identity, rather than knowing themselves as creatures, as children of God.

In order for a Catholic to understand what or Who Providence is, self-knowledge must precede any grasp of how God works in one's life.

One of the reasons why so many Catholics act out their personalities in public, trying this face or that, is that they lack humility, direction, a sense of Providence.

Here is St. Augustine on self-knowledge:
To you, then, Lord, I lie exposed, exactly as I am. I have spoken of what I hope to gain by confessing to you. My confession to you is made not with words of tongue and voice, but with the words of my soul and the clamour of my thought, to which your ear is attuned; for when I am bad, confession to you is simply disgust with myself, but when I am good, confession to you consists in not attributing my goodness to myself, because though you, Lord, bless the person who is just, it is only because you have first made him just when he was sinful. This is why, O Lord, my confession in your presence is silent, yet not altogether silent: there is no noise to it, but it shouts by love.

For it is you, Lord, who judge me. No-one knows what he himself is made of, except his own spirit within him, yet there is still some part of him which remains hidden even from his own spirit; but you, Lord, know everything about a human being because you have made him. And though in your sight I may despise myself and reckon myself dust and ashes, I know something about you which I do not know about myself.

It is true that we now see only a tantalizing reflection in a mirror, and so it is that while I am on pilgrimage far from you I am more present to myself than to you; yet I do know that you cannot be defiled in any way whatever, whereas I do not know which temptations I may have the strength to resist, and to which ones I shall succumb. Our hope is that, because you are trustworthy, you do not allow us to be tempted more fiercely than we can bear, but along with the temptation you ordain the outcome of it, so that we can endure.

Let me, then, confess what I know about myself, and confess too what I do not know, because what I know of myself I know only because you shed light on me, and what I do not know I shall remain ignorant about until my darkness becomes like bright noon before your face.

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