“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The Greek philosopher Socrates was said to have uttered this line as he awaited judgement at his trial. For the unaware, Socrates was accused of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens, and sentenced to death by poison. This was due to the fact that Socrates made the “learned” men of the community appear foolish by questioning them about their beliefs and ideas. In the process, he revealed the lack of understanding they had of their own thoughts and beliefs.
In short, Socrates realized that the only person in Athens who acknowledged his own ignorance was himself. I think this implies that most, if not all of us, are ignorant. And indeed, I think the more we look into ourselves, the more we realize that we don’t know a lot, even about ourselves. I think this point about our ignorance always gets me strongly, particularly when I look at the Passion. “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
Now, I always thought this seemed quite odd. I mean I’m sure the guards knew that they were crucifying Jesus (even if they didn’t know it was the Son of God, or that everything was according to the Father’s plan). I’m sure the people who shouted for his crucifixion knew what they wanted. I don’t think Jesus was referring to this when he said that “they do not know what they are doing”. For me, I am reminded in this moment to go back to my own knowledge of myself. I am reminded to realize that whenever I sin, similar to the people who crucified Christ, I lose sight of who I am. I become ignorant of the very reason that I was formed into being: God.
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were endowed with preternatural gifts, meaning, gifts from God that perfected the nature of Man. One of these gifts was the gift of infused knowledge. It was a sort of enlightened intellect which allowed Man to know God, and to know themselves. After the fall, we lost these gifts; as sin crept in, Man lost the ability to know himself.
I’m pretty sure I know myself quite well. But this isn’t simply a simple understanding of myself, it’s the understanding of who I am with relation to God. Basically, I’ve lost the knowledge of who I was created and meant to be. I no longer know the essence of who I am. And similar to how Adam and Eve covered up their physical nakedness, we too cover up our intellectual nakedness with our pride. We hide it behind false beliefs and thoughts and ideas because we are afraid. We are afraid because we no longer knew who we were. In doing so, we lose our own knowledge of God. Because if we cannot know creation, then how can we know the Creator?
The beauty of it all? Jesus has got it covered. This was one of the reasons for His incarnation as a man. It was so that we could reclaim our lost identities once again. To regain ourselves once again. I think the very phrase above shows that! When we are forgiven, it restores us to God’s Grace and reconciles us with God. (CCC 1468). Ultimately, it allows us to see ourselves the way we were created to be: children of God. Jesus asks for our forgiveness for His Father on our behalf because of our lost identities due to sin and the fall. In this way, He acknowledges that we are ignorant of our true selves but that is precisely why He came here; that we may be reminded once again of what it is through the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation with God.
So what does this all have to do with examining myself? Our process towards a union with God is not an instant journey. It is long and at times, arduous. Through it all, it is important that we always touch base with our inner self. More than that, it is important that we do so through the lens of our loving God. As we have seen, to do so otherwise would be folly indeed.
Jesus said “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5). How can we do that unless we can see ourselves? The only way we can see ourselves as who we really are and who we were meant to be is through the eyes of the One who bore us out of Love. The Daily Examen is an example of an amazing tool for discernment, helping us to detect God’s presence in our lives, beginning with simply inviting God into our reflection space. Without it, the other steps do not and cannot make sense, because only through God can we make sense of our lives.
Truly then Lord Jesus, forgive us, because we do not know what we do until we are able to be in union with You.
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan