Living the Christian Life. Let Me Know Myself, Let Me Know You: This is Prayer
To allow the seeds of the Gospel to grow, we must give them soil, and allow them to root deep in our souls
To allow the seeds of the Gospel to grow, we must also cut through the thorns of life's anxieties, the world's riches, and our own concupiscence. Put another way, we must quiet the Martha in us--"Martha, Martha, you are anxious about so many things!"--and encourage the Mary in us. We must not worship Mammon; so we dismount the camel that will keep us from entering the eye of the needle into the City of God. We must tame the three libidos of concupiscence, the Pascalian libido sentiendi, the libido sciendi, and the libido dominandi, the lust of pleasure, the lust of knowledge, and the lust for power.
To allow the seeds of the Gospel to grow, we must give them soil, and allow them to root deep in our souls and not on the rocky soil of shallow emotion or mere convention. It requires a plenary Christian life: prayer, the exercise of theological, the infused, and the acquired virtues, keeping of the Commandments, participation in the sacramental life of the Church. In short, we must live in the Church, feel with the Church, and do what the Church does: vivere in Ecclesia, sentire cum Eccleisa, et agere pro Ecclesia.
To allow the seeds of the Gospel to grow, we must also cut through the thorns of life's anxieties, the world's riches, and our own concupiscence. Put another way, we must quiet the Martha in us--"Martha, Martha, you are anxious about so many things!" (Luke 10:41)--and encourage the Mary in us. We must not worship Mammon; so we dismount the camel that will keep us from entering the eye of the needle into the City of God. (Matt. 19:24) We must tame the three libidos of concupiscence, the Pascalian libido sentiendi, the libido sciendi, and the libido dominandi, the lust of pleasure, the lust of knowledge, and the lust for power. (Cf. I John 2:16)
Finally, we must constantly stand guard against the wiles of the devil, who, like a roaring lion, prowls about the world seeking the ruin of souls. (Cf. Luke 8:12-16)
St. Augustine, who of course practiced what he preached (read his Confessions and his Soliloquies, to see what I mean), recognized that any honest introspection takes courage, unflagging honesty, and last but not least the help of God. Self-knowledge is not a practice in solipsistic contemplation or spiritual navel worship. It is a practice of communion, a dialogue with the Other, with God.
The sort of examination St. Augustine has in mind is an I-Thou examination. But sometimes the "I" is me and the "Thou" God, and sometimes God is "I" and I am the "Thou." In other words, there is both me speaking and God listening, and me listening and God speaking. Or, as St. Ignatius of Loyola may have put it, there is a conversation up from below, a conversation de abajo a arriba, and a conversation down from above, de arriba a abajo.
In reading St. Augustine's Confessions, for example, it is sometimes difficult to tell when St. Augustine is speaking to himself in retrospection of his past life or introspection of his current thoughts and when he is praying to God. The segues are almost imperceptible. For St. Augustine critical self-reflection and prayer to God go hand-in-hand.
Similarly, in his Soliloquies, St. Augustine wrote: "O God, always the same, let me know myself, let me know you. This is prayer." Deus semper idem, noverim me, noverim te. Oratum est. (Soliloquies 2.1.1.) Two must travel the path toward self-discovery. One cannot know himself by himself.
St. Augustine knew many in his flock were captured by the spirit of timidity. They were governed by the fear of what might be found if their inner recesses were exposed to the light of God. They might be discomfited by the changes that might be required to their comfortable lives if they allowed God entry.
Some of the townsmen of Hippo were surely bourgeois avant la lettre. "Ignorance is bliss: 'Tis a folly to be wise," is the maxim of such as these. But this maxim is an anodyne which prevents a real spiritual life. Such as these forget that willful ignorance is sin. (2 Pet. 3:5)
The unexamined life is not worth living as Socrates reminded us. And if that is true for philosophy (which concerns itself with logos and things of this world), it is even more true when it comes to the Gospel (which concerns itself with the Logos, the things of the soul, and eternity).
Unless the lackadaisical Christian in his flock was challenged, enjoined, or even cajoled, St. Augustine knew that he or she would never bother to explore anything below the surface of his or her life. The shallow one abides by convention, lives by facile formulae, and therefore remains ...
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