In the ancient world, one of the most well known sayings was the phrase "Know Thyself". This idea of struggling after self-knowledge was an ambition among people of various cultures and religions. It is perhaps best remembered as a proverb among the Ancient Greeks. The words “Know Thyself,” or γνῶθι σεαυτόν, were inscribed at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in the ancient city of Delphi and the theme of self-knowledge appears frequently among the Greek Philosophers, especially in the Dialogues of Plato.
But the work of trying to know yourself is not easy. Many centuries after Plato, Benjamin Franklin came along and said, “There are three things that are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self.” So the question is: what makes it so difficult and how does self-knowledge relate to our spiritual life as Christians and ultimately to our salvation?
Great Lent is an opportunity to “Know thyself.” The work is difficult because it requires me to be brutally honest with myself, to look deeply into my heart and mind and, with the guidance of a spiritual father, to discern my thoughts, my words and my behavior. But when I do so, I might not like what I find. I may come to realize how limited my love is, how self-serving my beliefs and opinions are, how short my temper is, how skewed my sense of compassion is, how much I am motivated by pride or by fear, how much I am controlled by guilt or by envy, how much I haven't forgiven.
Yet by devoting myself to this painful work of knowing myself, I am rewarded with the key to paradise. And that key is humility. Through the Grace of God, I become more and more aware of my failings and this leads me to remorse and repentance. By remembering and trusting in the unconditional love of Christ and His compassion, I can keep myself from being trapped in feelings of guilt, despair and self-loathing. Instead, my humbled and repentant condition again attracts the Grace of God which, through Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Confession, strengthens me to struggle against my passions, to correct them, to heal them, and to grow in holiness.
The more we know ourselves, the more we will understand the depth of God's love, the more we will feel the pain of the cross, and the more we will rejoice in the victory of the Resurrection.