Know Thyself

At my parish, we’re having what is called a “parish mission”.  For Catholics, a parish mission is to us what a revival is to evangelicals, but with marked differences.  A revival is characterized by a charismatic speaker and stirring music.  The point of the revival is to stir up anew a sense of devotion and love of God by stirring up the individual’s emotions.  A parish mission also seeks to stir anew a sense of devotion and love, but chooses to go through the mind rather than the emotions.  A revival is “loud” whereas a parish mission is “quiet”.

The priest who came in to give the mission (which will be lasting several days, just like a revival) is speaking on the Catechism.  The Catechism is perhaps the most daunting book a Catholic may have in their home.  It’s full of complex theological language and is quite dense.  This priest is trying to make the Catechism more accessible and simpler, stirring up within us the desire to study it.

I love stuff like this because I love the excuse to take copious notes and look like a complete nerd.  It also made me think of a very important point that applies to everyone, no matter what religion they profess (or if they profess no religion at all).  Understanding the Catechism helps us to understand God the better.  This is vital for someone who wants to devoutly live the faith.  But it also occurred to me that it is also vital for us to know and understand ourselves.

In my therapy sessions, whenever I talk about a problem, my therapist always wants to talk about my reaction to it.  Why did I react the way that I did?  It is in understand the ‘why’ that I come to understand myself.  And it is in understanding myself better that I become more capable of changing myself.  If we go through our lives just mindlessly acting and reacting, then two things happen.

One, we’ll miss a great deal of life.  We won’t be able to appreciate it to the fullest.  If we do not think about our reactions, if we do not strive to understand ourselves, then we cannot relate fully to the world around us.  Our perception of the world, how our minds evaluate what our senses take in, is affected by who we are.  If we do not understand or know ourselves, then we are not aware of our perception.  We’re not thinking about it, analyzing it, perhaps even correcting it the better to perceive the world.  Life flows over us rather than through us.

Secondly, we will be incapable of change.  If we do not recognize our weaknesses as well as our strengths, if we do not see ourselves for who we really are (rather than who we would like to be), then we cannot see where we need to change.  We become arrogant, thinking there’s nothing wrong with us.  We displace responsibility for our actions onto others.  “Oh, she made me angry, so therefore it’s her fault that I yelled.”  Have you no control over yourself that you can’t keep yourself from reacting in anger or irritation?  Are you so blind to yourself that you don’t bother to think about your reactions?

Knowing ourselves is a very tough road.  It involves, first of all, humility, because at some point, we have to admit that we are not the people we thought we were.  At some point, we have to admit that we are wrong about one thing or another.  At some point, we will have to let go of our own self-righteousness and realize that we need to change.

In the movie The Amazing Spiderman, Parker enters his English class a few minutes late.  The teacher is talking about fiction and the various subjects behind them.  She says that there is only one story: Who am I?  Those amazing stories that we read are about the protagonist trying to answer that question in its varied forms.  All great stories have an element of self-discovery (Bilbo discovers his courage, Eragon discovers his inner strength, Clara must discover her voice) and what the character does with that discovery.

So, dear readers, in the great story of your life: Who are you?  And once you know that, what are you going to do with that knowledge?

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