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It is no mere generality that our age is characterized by superficiality and constant noise, and that people do not know themselves. John Henry Newman began a sermon titled Secret Faults with the words of Ps 90: “Who can withstand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.”
He remarks that, “Strange as it may seem, multitudes called Christians go through life with no effort to obtain a correct knowledge of themselves.” Sure enough, people have some vague knowledge of themselves but no exact knowledge, nor do they seek it. Throughout the ages the saints have urged Christians to know themselves. St. Augustine’s Confessions indicate the extent and sincerity with which he knew himself.
Newman notes that, without a good self-knowledge, we cannot receive and act upon Christian doctrines because “self-knowledge is a necessary condition for understanding them.” Without a daily habit of self-examination we use words without meaning. The doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, the nature of sin and new birth, cannot have meaning for us.
Educated people fall into the error of thinking that, since they are familiar with words, they understand the ideas behind them. Having used these words all their lives they think they understand them.
Newman asserts that “unless we have some just idea of our hearts and of sin, we can have no right idea of a Moral Governor, a Saviour or a Sanctifier, that is, in professing to believe in Them, we shall be using words without attaching distinct meaning to them.”
He wishes us to understand that self-knowledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge. God speaks primarily to our hearts, not merely through books and sermons.
Naturally self-knowledge admits of degrees and no one is entirely ignorant of his faults but we should not be satisfied to have a vague knowledge of our secret faults.
Like St. Ignatius of Loyola before him, and St. Josemaría Escrivá after him, he insists on a daily habit of self-examination.
(to be continued)