“To know God is to know self. The more we grow in the knowledge of God, the deeper our knowledge of self, and if we would attain to any knowledge of God, there must be some knowledge of self. To have no knowledge of God is to walk in darkness, to have no absolute standard by which to gauge and measure yourself. ” – Basil W. Maturin (“Christian Self-Mastery”)
What is a friend? A friend is someone we can put some level of trust in. Someone with whom we share our joys, sorrows and confidence. Each in the relationship grows to know the other better than he knows himself. And in that knowledge of the other, he becomes aware of that which he knew not of himself.
I had dinner with two very close friends some years ago. As was regularly the case, the time shared was enjoyable. As the evening was coming to a close and we awaited the bill to arrive, one friend asked if we should get together to watch a football game that weekend. I had been experiencing new weakness due to post polio symptoms and knew the climb up the stairs to his apartment, which was not a problem to negotiate in the past, now presented an impossible task. I hesitated to commit, searching for an excuse to avoid the event. My friend as much surmised the reason behind my reluctance. He tried to reassure me that there would be ample help to get me up the stairs. Yet I persisted in my decline of the invitation. To my surprise, he left money for his portion of the bill before it arrived and after expressing his displeasure in my decision abruptly left. His response took me quite by surprise. The next day I received a call and an apology from him regarding his behavior. He was hurt in the thought that I did not think enough of our friendship to accept such a well-meaning gesture of help so that I could be a part of the gathering. I then accepted not only his apology but also his offer of help from the prior night. I, with the help of my friends, attended that event and others to follow.
I gained some self-knowledge as a result of that confrontation. I became aware that the reluctance to accept the assistance was due, in part, to a discomfort with, and fear of, my ever-growing loss of independence. An independence that I strove to secure for years in my struggle with polio. Becoming even more apparent, was the pride that motivated the reluctance to accept that help. A pride that was hindering my growth, through the challenge of change, that was being brought about by the new weakness. That knowledge which existed between two friends provided an opportunity for one to gain a deeper knowledge of self, revealing a vice that was not so readily apparent and needed correcting. Our bias toward ourselves often blinds us to inconsistencies which we soon find have been quite deep-seated; hindering growth of self-knowledge.
On the feast of St. Nicholas ( in 1273), Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was named the Angelic Doctor by the Catholic Church, was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologica unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) strong disapproval he replied, “The end of my labors has come. I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” Saint Thomas Aquinas died three months later while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons.
St. Thomas Aquinas, as all saints, was as devoted in his pursuit of God, as God is in His pursuit of us. Through his writings, teaching, celebration of Mass and spiritual warfare encountered in defense of Holy Mother Church, Thomas has procured a knowledge of God, that only one who had given his life to could. The more he knew of God, the more he knew of himself. We cannot know ourselves in-depth through self-analysis, because of our prejudice toward ourselves. God, however, possesses no such prejudice. And in knowing Him in the light of His perfect truth, what becomes apparent, is how unknowingly contradictory we have been in contrast to Him. Our growing self-knowledge establishes our task of conformity to God’s image through reconciliation and amending. Saint Thomas Aquinas confirms this in his cessation of writing. He realized that his writing could only reveal so much and no more. His incompleteness became self-evident when assessed in the illuminating light of God, through Christ, whom he came to know so well.
In knowing God we are guided to the deepest levels of our souls, where no earthy knowing friend can lead. And, there, uproot those discrepancies that keep us from rising to the highest level. The light of God reveals to each of us, who seek Him, the source of those disconcerting stirring specters, unbeknownst to us, that hopefully can be dispelled before they stain our souls with such vices the likes of which were found on the picture of Dorian Gray.
Knowing God is like examining a painting by the penetrating rays of the sun, rather than the dim light of a candle. One reveals the most imperceptible flaws, while the other, only those easily discernible blemishes. He allows us to see ourselves truthfully and completely, no matter what that vision may be. And only then can we begin to advance in self-knowledge, spiritual growth and a closer friendship with God.
I can now presume that those who condemned Our Lord to death in not knowing Him, were equally unknowing of themselves. This presumption very likely is the reason why, while in the throes of crucifixion, Christ offered the following divinely merciful plea on their behalf and ours:
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34