In ancient Greece there was a pagan temple at a place called Delphi. On a wall was inscribed the phrase, “Know Thyself.”
When Socrates first saw those words — wise philosopher that he was — he laughed out loud. St. Augustine agrees, confessing to God, “Lo, you were within, but I outside.” In other words, God knows him better than he even knows himself. Augustine is outside himself, lost and wandering into all the wrong forms of self-knowledge.
The Catholic novelist Walker Percy, in his book “Lost in the Cosmos,” puts it this way; “Why is it that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos — novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes — you are beyond doubt the strangest.”
It’s frustrating to look back each day and realize I did a thousand random things with totally unexamined motivations. I said things I didn’t mean, reacted in odd ways to emails and conversations that I wish I could take back and made suspect choices. I don’t quite know myself, what I’m thinking and feeling, why I do what I do. The reason for this is quite simple: Sin blinds us. This is why God knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees clearly, whereas our sight is muddled.
We truly are strange creatures. We have all the potential in the world. We’re given heart-breakingly beautiful glimpses into the very nature of God’s infinite glory. We’re fed by the sacraments and experience moments of transcendent joy through which we peer to the deep-down freshness of the universe and see the face of God mirrored in His creation. And yet, we frequently turn to lesser pursuits. We worry about errands, shopping or what’s on television. We wear ourselves out with overwork and anxiety, obsessively scroll through social media, or get caught up in gossip. Even St. Paul admits that he does things he doesn’t want to do, doesn’t do things he wants to do and is so very frustrated by his inability to change. Sound familiar? It does to me.
How can we know ourselves better? We allow God to do His work. As St. Augustine says, He is within. He knows us best because He is sinless and in a perpetual state of love. He loves us with the entirety of His being and sees the goodness within us like a seed waiting to be brought to full blossom.
The eye of the lover sees the beloved with the greatest accuracy, meaning that God sees our sins, the hidden thoughts of our hearts and our flaws. It also means He sees our Christ-shaped soul and the sainthood lurking in the heart of each and every one of us. Sainthood — the best version of ourselves — is who we truly are. Are we courageous enough to look within and find it? Are we willing to knock on the door and search out God in the recesses of our heart and take that journey of self-knowledge?
Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.