#103 – Examination of Conscience
Over the last three days our text has touched upon the aspects of mortal sin, venial sins and other imperfections that separate us from God. A question that you may have asked is “How do I learn to recognize these events in my daily life? How do I become aware of them so I can put a stop to them, or recognize the virtues I do possess?”
To insure an orderly and progressive growth in the spiritual life, we must know ourselves. We have to consider our sins, our weak points, our evil tendencies, as well as the progress we have already made, the favorable results we have attained, and our inclinations to good. This knowledge of our interior state is obtained through the examination of conscience. The examen considered in this way becomes one of the most important exercises of the spiritual life, since its object is to help the soul to rid itself of everything that might obstruct or delay its journey to God, and to stimulate it to quicken its pace toward Him.
I want to point out something key in that paragraph. Not just that we need to know ourselves and the best way to do this is by a consistent and thorough examination of our conscience. But it is important that we do not use this daily exercise as a bat with which we bludgeon ourselves over the head for all our failures. We must also use this time to consider the positive aspects of our day as well. Our successes; those times we do good. We want to note these so that we recognize them, our capacity for doing them, and our desire to repeat them.
In other words, the examination of conscience attains its end when the soul who has faithfully practiced this exercise can say to itself: these are the inclinations which I must watch more carefully to avoid falling into sin; these, the weak points which I must strengthen; these are the virtues that I must practice most of all. In this way the soul will be able to formulate practical, firm resolutions which will then become the special subject of its subsequent examinations.
The Daily Examen: Five steps towards G-R-A-C-E
The following excerpt is from the series of writings I did about my 2012 Ignatian retreat in which I learned an easy acronym to help me with my examen. I perform these steps each night on my own, or as part of the Compline (Night Prayer) from the Divine Office. I usually do them in a chair where it’s quiet, but now that the spring weather is getting better I will be sitting outside as I reflect on the day. Pick a spot that works for you. If it helps, keep a journal to write out your examination as concise bullet points.
A final subject, the Examen Prayer, was discussed. I already knew a little about this prayer having brought along my book on the subject by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I liked how Deacon Andrew kept it simple, breaking into the following pieces, using the acronym GRACE:
- Gratitude: for all that has been given me since the last Examen
- Request: a petition for the assistance of the Holy Spirit
- Account of the Day: Review – am I moving towards consolation or desolation?
- Contrition: in which I make an Act of Contrition and seek forgiveness
- Enthusiasm: return to my day and know that I am nearer to God than I was before the Examen
The Examen as you may have gathered is much like an examination of conscience. It does not have to be as extensive as that, or exhaustive, and if done every day (as one may do a “morning offering” for instance) it will not need to be. It may be done at the start of your day, done twice a day at Morning and Noon as the Jesuits do, or done as a part of Night Prayer. This is where I prefer to do the Examen as there is a place within the Compline (Night Prayer) that allows time for a daily examination of conscience and it seems the perfect place to do it while the events of the day are still fresh in my mind. It need only take 3-5 minutes, and often isn’t that long once you do it every day.
Here are a few other resources on the Examen:
- The Daily Examen: a page at IgnatianSpirituality.com that contains a lot of good links and information about the Daily Examen, including
- How Can I Pray?: A version of the Examen in five simple steps.
- The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today: a great little book by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I own this book and have attended a retreat led by Fr. Gallagher and can highly recommend both.
From the colloquy:
O my God, infinite Perfection, envelop and penetrate my soul with the reflection of Your holiness, and just as the sun illumines, purifies and makes the earth fruitful with its rays, illumine, purify, and sanctify my whole being. Teach me to look at myself with Your eyes, to know myself as You know me, to consider my miseries in the light of Your infinite perfections, to open my soul to Your purifying, sanctifying light. Amen.
For Lent I’m taking a daily walk through Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen. It is a book of meditations steeped in Carmelite spirituality and has been a favorite of mine for over a decade.