“The Three Great Depths Which No Human Line Can Sound…”
“You can look back on your past life, and understand your sins as you did not understand them then; and when you come to die, your present character and your present life will be seen by you in a light, brighter and more intense than that under which you see them now. Look up therefore into the light of God’s presence, and pray God to make you to know yourselves as He knows you, and to see yourselves as He sees you now; for when you have seen the worst of your sins, what are they, compared with those which God sees in you? Therefore, do not let us ever think that we know all our sins; do not let us imagine that we fully know our sinfulness. We are only beginning to learn it, and we shall have to learn it all our life.
There are three great depths which no human line can sound – the depth of our sinfulness, the depth of our unworthiness, and the depth of our nothingness. If you are beginning to learn those three things, happy are you. Be not afraid, the more you see your own sinfulness; and for this reason. Who is showing it t you? It is the light of the Spirit of God. It is He Who alone searches the heart, Who alone makes us know ourselves; and the more you see your own sinfulness, the truer pledge you have of His presence [He will convince the world of sin, Jn. 16.8; cf., our post “Sin And Its Malice (I)“]; that He is with you, that He is within you, that He is busied about your salvation. He is giving you a pledge and a promise that every sin you see He will help you to repent of, and every sin you repent of shall be washed away in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, one last word. My final counsel to you this Lent is this: Try to know yourselves, try to learn during these days such knowledge of yourselves as you have never had before. Begin as if it were for the first time. Take the Ten Commandments: read them in the letter; understand them in the spirit; and try your life from your childhood, from your earliest memory, by the divine rule. Take the seven deadly sins, try yourselves by them, in deed, in word, and in thought. Pray to the Spirit of God, Whose work and office it is to convince the world of sin. Pray everyday in this Lent, morning and night, that the Spirit of God may illuminate your reason to understand the nature of sin, and convince your conscience, that you may know what sins [weigh heavily in you]. Pray to Him that the light of the presence of God may come down upon you like the light of the noonday, that you may not see not only the broad outlines of your sins, but your finer and more delicate and more subtle offences against God, even as we see the motes which float in the sunbeam of the noonday.
The more you have the presence of God with you, the more the light of His perfections is upon you, the more you will see yourselves. The Patriarch Job, who, though, he had long lived in prayer, in converse and in communion with God, and had been grievously afflicted (which more than any other discipline brings men to know themselves) – nevertheless, at the end of all his trials, when God spoke to him out of the light of His presence, said: “With the hearing of the ear I have heard thee, but now Mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I condemn myself, and do penance in dust and ashes” (42.5-6). – from a Sermon of Henry Edward Cardinal Manning
See also: “Sin And Its Malice (II)“