Chapter 5 – Self Consideration
Some of the ancient philosophers maintained that the foundation of all righteousness and morality lay in the following words; “Learn to know thyself.” And they were not wrong. Why not?
God, in His infinite goodness and mercy, has revealed to us all we must know to be saved. He has clearly told us what we must believe and what we must do in order to go to heaven. Jesus has also founded His Church to be our infallible guide on the way through this life to eternity. On the part of God, therefore, there is nothing wanting. He has pointed out the way clearly; He has given us an unerring guide; and He is with us to help us, by His graces, to overcome the obstacles that beset our path.
But on our part much may be wanting. We have mighty enemies to struggle with—the world and the devil; and they are very cunning and most treacherous; yet these enemies are only outside of the fort. The most dangerous of our enemies, the one that is the most treacherous, is the enemy inside of the fort—our own wicked natures. You understand this, don’t you?
We are born with strong inclinations to evil; it is what we have inherited, through original sin, from Adam and Eve, our first parents. To do bad is natural for us, to do good goes against us. It is like going down and up a hill. Going down is easy enough; but climbing up is hard work. We are born with the root of one of the seven capital sins in our hearts. One has the root of pride in his heart; another, that of covetousness; another, that of and so on. Some hearts, it seems, have the roots of all the seven capital sins fastened in them. Like Mary Magdalene, they are possessed by seven devils.
How very dangerous, therefore, we are to our own souls! We are liable, at any moment, to put out our hands, so to join by sin with the other two enemies, the world and the devil. We must ever be watchful over ourselves. We must study our natures, see what particular evil inclination, the root of what capital sin, we have fixed in our hearts. From time to time a sinful passion will show itself, or some bad habit may take hold of us. They spring up like the weeds in a garden, or the wild shoots round a tree. We must be on the watch, always; as soon as we see these wild shoots, we must cut them off, or tear them up.
Do you understand now what self-consideration is, and why it is so important to consider oneself? “If thou wouldst have true peace and perfect union,” says Thomas a Kempis, “thou must cast all things else aside, and keep they eyes upon thyself alone.”
A certain man inherited a rich, very beautiful vineyard. It was a very large vineyard, and in the best condition possible when he came into possession of it. All he had to do was to keep up his vineyard, work it aright, and tend it well, and he would become a rich man.
What did this man do? He was foolish indeed. He cared very little for his vineyard—very little he worked in it. He would rather attend to his neighbors’ business than to his own. He would tell other people how to manage their farms, or how to work their gardens. He spent most of his time in idleness, or lounging around the public places of the town near which he lived. His own good vineyard he neglected nearly altogether.
What was the result? Let the Wise Man tell you: “I passed by the field of the slothful man,” says He, “and by the vineyard of the foolish man, and behold! It was filled with nettles, and thorns had covered the face thereof; and the stone wall was broken down.”
Apply this picture to yourself, my little follower of Jesus: If you care nothing about self-consideration; if you fail to examine yourself, to study your own faults, evil inclinations, and bad habits, your heart will soon be spoiled altogether like a garden spoiled by the weeds, the thistles and thorns growing in it.
Do this in future: hold one eye fixed on God, to study and learn what is His holy will; the other eye keep fixed on yourself, to study yourself, to look out before you on the way you are going, that your foot may not be caught, that you may not stumble and fall. Do this; it will not leave you much time to watch others. You will have enough to do with yourself.
Let us finish with another passage from The Following of Christ: “The interior man regardeth the care of himself before all other cares; and he that looketh diligently to himself findeth it not difficult to be silent about others.”