Secret Faults (Part 3)
Most people rationalize their defects and sins and become used to them. John Henry Newman drew from his personal habit of self-examination to write about its importance for the spiritual life. He explains that when a person begins to examine himself he discovers many faults which are almost entirely unknown to himself.
And hence, it is that the best men are ever the most humble; for having a higher standard of excellence in their minds than others have, and knowing themselves better, they see somewhat of the breadth and depth of their own sinful nature, and are shocked and frightened at themselves.
Each man must continue the struggle for self-knowledge along the narrow path to the end of his life. Only after death will he see the full extent of his faults. Newman warns:
At the last day who can tell the afright and horror of a man who lived to himself on earth, indulging his own evil will, following his own chance notions of truth and falsehood, shunning the cross and the reproach of Christ, when his eyes are at length opened before the throne of God, and all his innumerable sins, his habitual neglect of God, his abuse of his talents, his misapplication and waste of time, and the original unexplored sinfulness of his nature are brought clearly and fully to his view?
Newman points out some difficulties in daily examination:
- “Self-knowledge does not come as a matter of course; it implies an effort and a work.”
- We need to counter self-love, as well as a self-serving judgment that rationalizes away the possibility of having unknown faults.
- Good health and cheerfulness may contribute to self-deceit; we mistake this for Christian peace.
- The force of habit dulls the conscience. Newman writes: “Conscience at first warns us against sin; but if we disregard it, it soon ceases to upbraid us; and thus sins, once known, in time become secret sins.”
- The force of custom also misleads men. “Every age has its own wrong ways; and these have such influence, that even good men, from living in the world, are unconsciously misled by them.”
Blessed Newman concludes the sermon by urging us to look to the Holy Scriptures to purify our consciences, which can be corrupted, so that we can reach true knowledge of ourselves. If we seek to know our secret faults God will grant us this knowledge and the grace to overcome them.