Alfred Wilson, CP

Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat, 1946

"SELF-LOVE," says Monsignor de Ségur, "is a fool; like a peacock, it struts about imagining that it attracts every eye, whereas, in reality, it is generally its sole admirer." The cure for self-love is self-knowledge, which acts on vanity like a cold-douche. Self-knowledge, however, ... is difficult to acquire, and the main difficulty is is that our worst faults are the very ones we are least likely to admit.

A review of a few of the kinds of blinkers we are accustomed to use, and why we use them, should help us to devise a wise method for our examens and enable us to find matter in plenty for confession.

Since self-deceit is obviously very foolish (at least in others and more especially in So-and-So!), a tantalizing question arises why we are so addicted to it, so self-satisfied about it, and for the most part, so sublimely unconscious of it.

One cause is that our nature disposes us to wishful thinking. A glance at the arrangement of our faculties will enable us to understand why this is the case.

The table should explain itself.

The desires of the senses are instinctive, not free, automatic, irrational and irreparably selfish. The desires of the soul are indicated, but not controlled by reason.

A glance at the scheme will show that, apart from the mind, all our faculties are faculties of desire. Reason, therefore, is encompassed by untrustworthy counsellors. Desire is a bad advisor because, as we know from sad experience, the wish (or desire) is very often father to the thought. Whenever we badly want something, we are inclined to dispense with enquiry about the legitimacy of satisfying our desire. We turn a blind eye on our real motives and focus our attention on plausible pretexts which will give us a specious justification for doing what we want to do.

From the nature of the case, therefore, reason is exposed to grave danger of wishful thinking. The danger is aggravated by the fact that, since all our life begins in the senses, the senses always get the first innings. If desire is allowed to rule us, our conduct is bound to become progressively more and more unreasonable, and as a result of the blacking out of reason, we shall live in spiritual darkness.

Self-deception is a device for enabling us to be selfish without remorse or loss of self-respect. Such veiled selfishness is often glorified by the moderately respectful title of thoughtlessness. We may be too busy satisfying our desires, our whims and inclinations and passion, to have time or inclination to try to understand our real motives. We just feel that way about things and that's that. To act like this is to live "like the ass and the ox which have no understanding." Impetuosity, frivolity, whimsicality, superficiality, may make our rational life negligible. The ways of self-deception are innumerable, but the essence of them all is an attempt to camouflage and whitewash our real motives.

Desire is the major difficulty in the way of self-knowledge. Whenever, therefore, our desires have been aroused or frustrated, we should spare no pains to keep reason in charge of the situation. If our feelings have been excited, we should keep a close watch and a stern grip on ourselves. How many bad matrimonial matches are made because this not done! If we are "hurt," or if we are violently attracted or repelled by someone, we shall be hard pressed to remain entirely reasonable in our conduct. As soon, however, as reason loses control, we begin to make fools of ourselves, no matter what the world may say. Let us, therefore, carefully review our desires; desire to have our own way, stubbornness, impetuosity; desire for revenge, perhaps only in a petty mean way; desire for our own ease causing us to fear any form of sacrifice, to neglect duty, to be selfish; desires for sex gratification; desires to shine, and be outstanding, et cetera.

Wishful thinking causes us to become experts at disguising our motives, which the modern psychologists call---rationalizing. The fat woman going up a hill sits down half-way to admire the view, so she says; the real reason is, of course, because she is "puffed."

St. Thomas says that "omnis peccans ignorat." Every sinner acts in ignorance. though his ignorance is voluntary. Before acting we always try to justify our conduct to ourselves, and there is an obvious danger that we may be too proud to admit our voluntary self-deception even when we have cooled down from our fit of passion; or too lazy and weak-willed, because we shirk the labour involved in self-correction; or too full of human respect and so unwilling to admit our fault before others.


Another very common reason why people cannot find matter for confession is because unconsciously they have adapted the commandments to their own convenience, and whittled down their obligations to more sizable proportions.
Some people seem to think that the only serious sins are impurity and Mass-missing. It is significant, as Dorothy Sayers points out, that the word "immorality" has come to mean one thing only, whereas it was made to cover the whole range of human corruption. "A man may be greedy and selfish; spiteful, cruel, jealous and unjust; violent and brutal; grasping, unscrupulous and a liar; stubborn and arrogant; stupid, morose, and dead to every noble instinct---and still we are ready to say of him that he is not an immoral man." [1]

Sometimes one finds Catholic maids in non-Catholic households, who are lying, immodest, lazy, dirty, dishonest and mischief-making; but they go to Confession and Communion once a month, and never miss Mass, so they are obviously in a position to look down superciliously on their irreligious employers. Oftentimes oldish people, whose passions have cooled down, will say that they no longer have any occasion of serious sin. Obviously in their minds the only serious sin is sexual sin. If they thought again, it might suddenly occur to them that there are ten commandments, not two, and that breaking some of the other commandments is more serious than breaking the sixth and ninth. A modern version of phariseeism---which is the religion of the minimizers---is sometimes summed up like this: "I don't harm anybody, and though I don't go to church, I'm as good as those who go," and, therefore, we are left to conclude, they are quite justified in being very smug and self-satisfied and in tearing their church-going neighbours' characters to bits. Probably they are practising birth-control, approving, if not practising, abortion and euthanasia, hardly ever doing an honest day's work, sailing very near the wind in business and completely ignoring the first and greatest commandment---but, of course they have decided that these things are not sins! That they should set themselves up as pontiffs in Israel and echo their pontifical locutions from the abysses of their ignorance does not strike them as insufferable pride.
If we do not trouble to find out what God really wants, naturally we decide that He wants what we think He wants; or, at any rate, what we think He ought to want, what would content us if we were God.

If we are self-righteous and inclined to be very self-satisfied about our conduct, or addicted to making such pretty little speeches as: "I may be ... but, thank God (shudder!), I'm not. ..."; or if we make a fetish of certain practices, mostly external, or bitterly censure certain types of delinquents whilst we are very tolerant of others---in any, or all of these cases, we convict ourselves of phariseeism. Pharisees are also fond of priding themselves on their practicality in religion; which means in all probability that they have neither piety nor devotion and very little faith, hope or charity, and practise a merely natural religion which aims at satisfying social conventions rather than God.


What the moderns call the herd-instinct is responsible for much ignorance of our faults. We are by nature social beings, and therefore we are inevitably, and rightly, but dangerously affected by what our fellows think of us. Fear to lose caste is one of the most powerful motives of human conduct.

The desire for esteem is a powerful urge, and, provided it is regulated by reason, a good and constructive urge. It may lead, however, by:

EXCESS to self-assertiveness, vanity, showing-off;
fear to be odd, singular, different, etc.;

DEFECT to excessive self-esteem. A man may react
too vigorously against the desire for esteem
and strive to acquire an odious self-sufficiency.

The social instinct disposes us not to think at all but simply to accept blindly the prevailing ideas and fashions. Ideas which are taken for granted by our neighbours easily come to be taken for granted by us, for we imbibe them unconsciously and acquiesce in them indeliberately.
Fear to be thought odd, narrow-minded, old-fashioned, out-of-date or ignorant, has a powerful influence on our opinions, our sentiments and our conduct and is one of the major causes of the spiritual blindness and inefficiency of the Catholic body. In a world which is organized on Godless principles, it is inevitable that a Catholic who has the courage of his convictions should often seem odd and unreasonable. To be true to his principles in the modem world, a Catholic must be mentally alert and vigilant and full of moral courage. Because of insufficient spiritual reading, thought and prayer, many Catholics accept without challenge the world's standards and values and become infected with its spirit. As a result, they are indistinguishable from others of their class except on Sunday mornings, and as Christians exercise no influence on society.
What the world needs today are other-Christs, men and women not merely Christian in name and devotions but Christian also in their outlook and principles, and different, fundamentally and obviously different, from others. To endeavour to be Christ-like is an obligation not a presumptuous pious eccentricity. "So let your light shine before men that they may glorify your Father Who is in Heaven. I have given you an example that as I have done, so do you also." If we are not attempting to become Christ-like, we are failing in our duty. To be a Christian in reality, not merely in name, means to be an imitator of Christ. We can't have it both ways. "He that is not with Me, is against Me," If we are not drawing others to Christ, we are alienating them from Christ and ruining his work. Our own masses must first be leavened, if the rest of the world is to be affected. Because of worldliness many Catholics couple all the faults of their class with a sublime unconsciousness of infidelity.

Our modern benighted education has, for example, almost expunged the words "reverence" and "respect" from the dictionary, and often no attempt is made to practise these virtues---even by Catholics: to show, for example, respect and reverence for parents, priests and superiors as enshrining God's authority, and respect for one's social inferiors as children of God. The world would consider such conduct old-fashioned and spiritless, so even Catholics are sometimes off-hand, blas
é, and reverent neither in manner nor in speech. Reverence is reserved for those who have achieved notoriety or got on, or made money, or are useful to know, or who wear fine clothes and have an affected accent. To show respect to a tramp or the charwoman would be a social impropriety bordering on an unforgivable sin. The canons of the worldling's moral code are "what is done" and "what is not done." He does not think, he imitates, he follows fashion, he is a perfect marionette. Each class has its own conventions, which are frequently not those of Christ.

Unworthy conduct may be due to abuse, probably unconscious abuse, of our faculties.


Mr. A. has a vivid imagination. Every minor happening in his life sets his imagination working and evolves into a thriller. Result, he becomes a first-class liar, impractical and unreliable.

Mr. B. also has a vivid imagination and a tendency to self-pity. Result, he broods over every slight or imagined neglect, makes mountains out of mole-hills, and becomes moody, melancholic and a bitter critic.

Mrs. C. lives in a make-belief world of heroic sanctity. Her make-belief is so real to her that she fancies herself something of a Saint. Really she is lazy, self-indulgent, negligent about household duties, proud and condescending to others and merely sentimental in her devotions.


A. has an ingenious mind, which he uses to explain away any duty he does not wish to honour, and justify any shady affair which he has decided to promote.

It is inevitable that we should all tend to misuse the mind when we are dealing with our own affairs, in which we are interested parties and therefore prejudiced. "No one is a judge in his own case." Let us, therefore, submit to our confessor affections, friendships or conduct, if we are uneasy about them and find that they are disturbing our peace of soul and diminishing our sense of union with God. It is a wise plan to listen attentively to what others say about us, even enemies. Others are no more infallible in their judgment of us than we are in our judgment of ourselves; but friends are likely to be right, and even enemies are not certain to be wrong. "Hatred has keen eyes, and its malicious tongue often speaks truths which our friends do not dare to utter because they are bitter." [2]
Examination of our faculties on similar lines might bring home to us a crop of faults.

In the following cases, there is obvious need for thorough
1. If we are in the class of the old woman who said to her friend: "All the world's queer save thee and me---and thee's a bit queer." If we are the only ones in step, if we get into persistent difficulties with others, there is obviously something wrong and seriously wrong with us.
The world is usually what we make it. If others constantly get on our nerves, obviously we have nerves. It takes two to make a quarrel, at least as a general rule (there is, of course, such a thing as "picking a quarrel," but such obstreperous conduct is rare), so if we are seldom at peace with our neighbours, we cannot be at peace with ourselves. If all the world seems black, we must be wearing black glasses.
Those who are constantly at loggerheads with parents, superiors or associates, should engage in humble self-examination. They are certainly failing in humility and are probably making no attempt to curb a natural defect of character, e.g., moroseness, stubbornness, melancholy, et cetera.
2. When fervour seems to be abating---Perhaps it is only our sensible fervour, our "ginger-beer" fervour, that has gone, as sooner or later it must go if we are to progress: but let us make sure, or the doubt, even if it is no more than a doubt, will constantly tantalize and discourage. The only remedy for doubt is solution of the doubt.
3. When we suffer from aridity for long periods or almost unintermittently---Aridity may be a purifying trial or a punishment for habitual faults. 

If aridity is a punishment for habitual faults, e.g., uncharitable gossip, toying with temptations, dangerous curiosity or familiarity---the aridity will be liable to continue until the fault is amended.

Whether aridity is a punishment or a trial, we must submit to it with patience because in either case it is a manifestation of mercy.
In making our examens we should not try to X-ray the soul and read it like a book. Our examen should start out of self in the consideration of external ideals and norms, e.g.:
1. Habitual recollection---What prevented me from maintaining it? Laziness? Want of faith? Excessive desire to succeed?
2. Daily duties---Have I done any of them badly or omitted them altogether? Why?
3. Moods---What put me in that black mood? That dissipated one?
4. Temper---Why did I get into such a vicious temper? Why do I find it so difficult to recover my balance?

And so on, indefinitely.

The clues to our interior defects will be furnished from without. These few suggestions will, it is hoped, make clear several points:
1. That if we want to acquire self-knowledge and progress in holiness, we must be in earnest. Casual spirituality allows our souls to "become an unweeded garden that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely."
2. That if we examine our conscience with method and insight, we shall find more than enough matter for Confession.

May the Holy Spirit enlighten and strengthen us: "Domine noverim me, noverim Te!"---"Lord that I may know myself and know Thee."

1. The Six Other Deadly Sins (Methuen). (Cf. Newman's masterly sermon, "The Religion of the Pharisee, the Religion of Mankind": Sermons on Various Occasions.)
2. Scharsch, Op. cit., p. 109.