Know Thyself

Father Girardey continues his discussion of mental prayer, demonstrating how it promotes the sort of moral introspection that is vital to living a virtuous life.

“St. Augustine was wont to pray: ‘Lord, grant that I may know myself, that I may know Thee.’ This two-fold knowledge is necessary. First, we must know ourselves, who and what we are, our origin, our final destiny, our duties and obligations, our weaknesses, helplessness, our shortcomings, our needs. . . . Each one is always ready to examine the conscience of his neighbor, but never his own, and if he does, it is only superficially in order to contrast his supposed good qualities with the shortcomings of others. Hence few only are those who are aware of their faults, shortcomings, spiritual misery and the needs of their soul. To acquire the necessary self-knowledge, there is need of serious reflection and examination of conscience concerning our thoughts, words and actions; we should try to see ourselves as we are, as others see us, in order to find out our weaknesses. They who neglect doing this, will hardly be aware of their special needs. For instance, a man who is puffed up with pride usually does not acknowledge it and will not pray for and strive to acquire humility, without which he cannot be saved. A man who is very irritable and addicted to impatience, will pray for many other things, but will never think of the necessity he is under of praying for patience and making serious efforts to overcome that dangerous fault. A miser, a gossiper, a backbiter, a mean, selfish man, will not earnestly pray for grace to overcome his ruling passion or do all in his power to root it out. Such persons do not seriously study themselves before God, and therefore in their prayers they never think of praying for what they need the most, in order to overcome their pet and most dangerous fault; but they usually pray for what is neither necessary nor useful to their salvation; or, if they do pray for it, they are not disposed to do, on their part, what is necessary to secure the success of their prayers.”

Quotations from Ferreol Girardey, Prayer: Its Necessity, Its Power, Its Conditions (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1916).

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