919. What is the most effective method for guaranteeing self-improvement and resisting the attraction of wrongdoing?
“A philosopher of antiquity once said, ‘Know thyself.’”
a) We fully admit the wisdom of this saying, but self-knowledge is precisely what is most difficult to achieve. How can we acquire it?
“Do what I myself used to do during my life on Earth. At the end of each day I would assess my conscience, review everything that I had done, and I would ask myself whether I had failed in some duty, whether someone might have reason to complain of me. It was thus that I arrived at knowing myself and in seeing what there was in me that needed to be reformed. If you review all your actions of the day every evening, asking yourself whether you have done good or bad, and praying for enlightenment from God and your guardian angel, you would acquire great strength for self-improvement because God would assist you. Ask yourself these questions, what you have done, what was your aim, whether you have done anything that you would find fault for in another, or whether you have done anything that you would be ashamed to admit. Also ask yourself: If God called me into the spirit life at this moment in time, where nothing is hidden, would I dread seeing anyone? Review what you may have done, first against God, second against your neighbor, and lastly, against yourself. The answers to these questions will either settle your conscience, or reveal some wrong that you will have to remedy.”
“Self-knowledge is the key to individual improvement. However, you may ask, ‘How does one judge one’s self? Aren’t all human beings subject to the illusions of arrogance, which diminishes their flaws in their own eyes and makes it possible to find excuses for them? Misers think that they are merely practicing economy and foresight, while proud individuals think their pride is dignity.’ This is true, but there is a way of proceeding that cannot deceive you. When you are in doubt regarding any of your actions, ask yourself what your judgment would be if it were done by another. If you would find cause for reproach in another, it cannot be less reprehensible when done by you because God’s justice is universal for all. Try to discover what others think and do not overlook the opinion of your enemies because they have no interest in disguising the truth, and God often places them in your life to serve as a mirror to warn you in a manner more frank than that of a friend. Those who are firmly resolved in achieving self-improvement must review their conscience in order to uproot their evil inclinations, just as they uproot weeds from their gardens. Every night they should settle their moral accounts for the day, just as businessmen account for their profits and losses. They can rest assured that the former will be a much more profitable operation than the latter. Those who can say that the balance is in their favor may sleep peacefully, and await their return to the spirit life without fear.”
“Ask yourself clear and precise questions, and do not hesitate to ask them often. You should devote a few minutes to guaranteeing happiness that will last forever. Do you not work every day so that you may rest when you have reached old age? Is this rest not the object of your desires, the aim that helps you endure your current hardships and deprivation? What comparison is there between a few days of rest, impaired by the weaknesses of the body, and the endless rest that awaits the virtuous? Is the latter not worth a slight effort? I know that many will say, ‘The present is certain, and the future uncertain,’ but this is precisely the error that we must erase from your minds by showing you your future in such a way as to leave no shred of doubt. This is why, having begun by producing phenomena designed to grab your attention by appealing to your senses, we now give you the moral teachings that each of you must in turn spread. This is why we have dictated The Spirits’ Book.” Saint Augustine
We commit many faults that go unnoticed. If we followed the advice of Saint Augustine and examined our conscience more often, we would see how many times we have failed without even realizing it, due to our lack of scrutinizing the nature and reason behind our actions. The interrogative form is more precise than a maxim that often is not applied. It requires “yes” or “no” responses that leave no room for interpretation. These are personal arguments and by the sum of the responses, we can estimate the sum of good and evil within us.