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On Radical Self-Knowledge

While struggling through a bit of a rough phase a few months back, I began to wonder how it was that I had come to be where I was and specifically why I had made the choices which had led me to that point. One morning while sitting in adoration, I finally asked myself a rather challenging question: “What ultimately motivates me in life?” This isn’t so much to worry about little things like why I choose a certain candy bar or why I put my keys in a certain pocket, but rather toward what particular goal I’m striving with my actions across the board. Being a seminarian, or more generally, as Matthew Kelly would say, as a dynamic Catholic, I knew that my biggest motivation involved God in some capacity, but just as God made each of us differently, he made each of us to love and to pursue and to serve Him differently as well. I spent the remainder of my time in adoration that morning considering a lot of my biggest life decisions and trying to find the common theme. What I found for myself is an overwhelming attraction toward truth. This can be seen both in some of my biggest decisions in life (studying mathematics and statistics as the “purest” or “truest” sciences, then becoming a seminarian in the hope of someday acting In Persona Christi, In the Person of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life) as well as in more general aspects of my personality (I suspect more than a few of you reading this are familiar with my tendency toward bluntness rather than beating around the bush or my tendency to be a bit, or more, of a know-it-all).

I share this anecdote not because I think it is important that all of you adopt my dedication for truth (I suspect that those same readers who were familiar with my frankness are now shuddering at the idea of a world in which everyone emulates me), but because I found this to be such a valuable tool for self-knowledge. I shared the idea with a few friends and got answers such as “to become my true self as God intended me to be”, “to live in gratitude for Christ’s passion”, and “to learn how to love as God loves me.” I think each of us could benefit to do a self-examination such as this and to examine why we are who we are. I suspect many of us may not find ourselves to be as altruistic as we might have imagined. Personally, I began the exercise hoping to uncover some deeply noble and self-sacrificial motive for all of my actions, but upon further reflection see that I am perhaps not quite the suffering servant I fantasized myself to be.

The real value in this exercise, though, is that I think anyone who approaches it with humility will be able, at the very least, to see for whom he or she is living. Most of us, myself included, tend to live for ourselves far more than we would care to admit. I would like to say that I find myself seeking truth in order to grow closer to God or to better serve neighbor. Sometimes that is the case, but just as often, I seek truth purely for my own satisfaction of knowing something. Being able to name every player to hit 300 Major League home runs is probably not going to bring me closer to God, yet I probably know more about even the most obscure sluggers such as Greg Luzinski and Cecil Fielder than I do about some of my classmates here at seminary. However, by understanding this about myself, I have been able, or at least I think I have been able, to find ways to try to apply this trait toward a higher end. This, I think, has been the real fruit of this exercise. By growing in knowledge of my own motives, be they good, bad, or indifferent, I am better able to apply myself for a higher purpose.

So perhaps some of you might find that you are driven by your own image, or by a desire to be accepted, or by a fear of punishment. These may not be the most altruistic or admirable drives, but this knowledge can enable growth toward Christ. If you are guided by your own image, you can find ways to serve God that no one on earth will ever see. If you seek most of all to be accepted, you could spend time each day in adoration with your Lord who not only accepted you, but loved you and died for you before you were even born. If you fear punishment above all, you could make an effort to focus not on the consequences your actions bring upon yourself, but rather on whether you are acting out of love for God for His glory alone. Whatever you find about yourself, so long as you approach this exercise with spirit of humility and true desire for self-knowledge, it can only help you. In order to know where you are going in life, you must first know where you are.

#alexbecker #selfknowledge #truth #adoration

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