EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCETwo things are needed if we are to foster intimate and loving union with God, who is the source of every apostolate. These are the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self; in other words, the two strands of union: God and the soul.
Knowledge of God includes all that can lead us to admire and love him; thus, his existence, his nature, his attributes and his works, especially his inner life and his relations with human beings.
We come to know God through the study of philosophy and theology, through meditation and prayer, and through the habit of seeing God in all things.
Self-knowledge includes all
that is ours: qualities and defects, natural and supernatural endowments, likes and dislikes, our personal history, our faults, our efforts, our progress. All of this is to be reflected on, not in a pessimistic way but with due impartiality, with a right conscience enlightened by faith.
If the publishing apostle really wants to sanctify himself and others, then he must combine the study of God with the study of self. He must, in other words, train himself and enter his inner self to examine that little invisible world of his to find out what it is in him that comes from God and [what comes] from corrupt nature, in order to favor the former and to reject the latter, because the examination is [to acquire] practical knowledge in view of reforming one's life.
The apostle will see to this study of self through the daily practice of the general and particular examination of conscience, in accordance with the "way, truth and life" method.1
This is the check up that every good Christian must make daily so as to know himself and to correct himself.
It concerns all the day's thoughts, actions and feelings. It comprises five points.
1. Adore the Triune God, infinite Goodness, and thank him for all the general and particular helps bestowed. This first point has a threefold purpose: to render to God the acts of religion due to him, to nurture faith in God, to turn the mind to acts of contrition, thus highlighting one's own ingratitude.
2. Ask for the grace to know your sins and to be freed of them. This request is to be addressed to the Holy Spirit so that he can thus communicate to the soul the gift of knowledge. This will help the soul to discern properly and thus lead it to God.
3. Render an exact account of your actions from the morning's first moments up to the time of the present examination, going over the hours of the day one by one or the period of time determined by your actions.
Adhere to three rules: a) follow a sequence starting with thoughts, actions and feelings; then broaden the search to the following: esteem of and faith in God's word; submission and fidelity to the Church; practice of pastoral zeal in the apostolate consonant with your office and ministry; conduct with respect to yourself and others as regards bad and worldly publications; the use of
time and especially your practice of the interior life; b) question the morality and determine the responsibility of every interior and exterior act, examining and judging it impartially, in itself, in its remote and proximate causes, in its effects; c) compare your own conduct with that of Jesus. The disparity between yourself and this divine model, and your own defects and imperfections will appear all the more clearly; at the same time the will's urge will be induced to follow this model ever more closely.
4. In all humility and trust, make your "spiritual confession", as it is called, to Jesus; invoke his pardon on your faults and thank him for the victories won. This fourth point is the main one because it includes contrition, which is the principal element of the examination of conscience.
5. Set out clear and practical resolutions for rectifying and improving yourself; to this end ask for God's grace. To be effective such resolutions must be humility-based, explicit and detailed, and encompass thoughts, actions and feelings. The recitation of the Pater noster is a fitting prayer to ask God for the grace to keep your resolutions. Such earnest prayer addressed to God through Jesus Christ reinforces and gives surety to one's plea for pardon and help.
This is the secret weapon in a person's spiritual arsenal in view of achieving self-mastery as regards a well-defined point. It is aimed at a fault to be corrected or a virtue to be cultivated. For it to succeed you need to observe some rules regarding the choice of the subject and how to go about it.
Choice of subject - Ordinarily you should aim at your predominant fault (one of the seven capital sins or a form of their manifestation), strive to overcome it and supplant it gradually with its contrary virtue.
For this task to be thoroughgoing, and progress easier and more assured, you need to draw up a practical program which engages all the main faculties: intellect, will, and feeling. Thus, if you make the particular examen on love of God, the program will have to include the following three parts:
1. Exercise of the mind. Be convinced in your inmost self of the principles on which love of God is based: God is the beginning, ruler and end of all creatures, to whom he, supreme and essential Good, has communicated all the good they possess. Creatures' love, our love, must therefore be addressed to God. All other things must be loved in him and through him.
2. Exercise of the will. Following Christ's example, resolve to acquire a constant and joyful conformity to God's will. Conformity to God's "signified" will, that is, to obey the Church's commandments and precepts, the evangelical counsels, the inspirations of grace and, for Religious, the Constitutions and the Rule. Conformity to God's will of "good pleasure" is to submit to all the providential events willed or allowed by God for the greater good and, in the main, for our own sanctification.
3. Exercise of the heart. Resolve to acquire the highest possible degree of union with God by the following means: to see at all times a reflection of God's goodness in the whole of creation and thus use it as a means for arriving at God; to turn aside from self and from all natural affection and fashion a cell, as it were, in your inner self where you can find God, love him and speak to him heart to heart, in expectation of that eternal embrace in heaven.
How to do it. The particular examination comprises three periods: morning, during the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament, evening.
Morning (on waking) make the so-called "preventive examination". This comprises four basic acts: determine clearly in your mind what the object of your battle will be in the morning; foresee
the occasions; resolve to get the better of yourself each time; invoke God's light and strength. It is something brief: two or three minutes should suffice.
During the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament you make the particular examination in the strict sense; it is to last twenty minutes. As with the general examination it comprises five points: thanksgiving, the grace to know and to detest one's faults, searching for faults and a check on progress, repentance, and resolution. The whole is preceded by two preparatory acts and ends with an act of conclusion.
The preparatory acts that comprise the exercise of the presence of God and an opening prayer have, as their purpose, to stimulate recollection and to focus on the examination. The exercise of the presence of God is to open our soul to God's all-seeing eye and to arouse us to a lively sense of humility and shame.
In the opening prayer you pray briefly to God for the grace to be able to make the present examination properly. It must be a fervent prayer.
Thanksgiving. Thank God in particular and in detail for all the graces granted you since the last examination. Thank him especially for his goodness in granting them.
Prayer. Concentrate attention wholly on the topic of the particular examination and beg
God's help to remember the number of failures and for the strength to put things right.
Examination. Here you scrutinize your faults, write down their number and compare this with that of the previous examinations. To find your faults you will need to ask yourself for an exact account of the special point on which you resolved to improve and correct yourself.
In practice it is advisable to use a practical questionnaire which sets out explicit and particular questions on the work program as set out above. So as not to end up generalizing it helps to review matters hour by hour or action by action. Always follow the same sequence, making a clear and exact calculation, being careful to avoid an excess of optimism or pessimism.
Write the result down in an appropriate notebook. This helps you to remember more easily and enables you to make a comparison. You do this by comparing the report of the midday examination with that of the evening, or that of a whole day with that of another. Compare these results on a weekly, monthly and annual basis and show them to your spiritual director. Such comparisons stimulate fervor; the results keep you steadfast in battle, and act as a surety and guide.
Repentance. Detest wholeheartedly
your faults and stir up sorrow as you do for confession. Conclude by reciting the act of contrition, a penitential psalm, or by meditating on some stations of the Way of the Cross.
Resolution. As expiation and amendment its purpose is twofold. Expiation is through works of penance. Make sure you impose penance on yourself for your faults in view of quenching the love of pleasure, a source of sin.
To make amendment. Here you determine the subject of attack, foresee occasions and take specific decisions so that you will conquer every time. Be careful to rid yourself speedily of presumption. This can induce you to rely too much on your own good will and strength; this in turn would deprive you of many graces and expose you to further imprudence and new falls. You must instead put your trust completely in the all-powerful and infinite goodness of God who is always ready to come to the aid of those who acknowledge their weakness. The final act is to implore this divine help by means of prayer. The more the sight of our sins makes us mistrustful the [more] humble and earnest should our prayer be.
Apart from this method which conforms more to the one suggested by Saint Ignatius, there
are others that respond more to the "way, truth and life" method. For example,
1. Following the act of faith made in God's presence and the preparatory prayers:
a) Acknowledge God's benefits, make acts of gratitude and thanksgiving, ask for the grace to know oneself and experience the dread of one's own defects and faults.
This is the "truth" part (5 minutes).
b) Examination properly so-called with check-up, repentance and resolution.
This is the "way" part (10 minutes).
c) /i>Copious prayer.
This is the "life" part (4 minutes).
Close with the Pater and the prayer My dear and sweet2 [Mother Mary] (1 minute).
2. Following the act of faith in the presence of God and the preparatory prayer (1 minute):
a) Acknowledge God's gifts and thank him; ask God [for the grace] to know and to reform oneself; examine for failures and defects, and acknowledge them humbly.
This is the "truth" part (7 minutes).
b) Act of repentance and resolution.
This is the "way" part (8 minutes).
c) Copious prayer.
This is the "life" part (4 minutes).
Pater, My dear and sweet... (1 minute).
3. Following the act of faith in the presence of God and the preparatory prayer, thank him and ask for the grace to know oneself, to repent and to make amends (4 minutes).
Then follows the examination proper:
a) Search for faults (8 minutes).
b) Repentance and resolutions (8 minutes).
c) Prayer (4 minutes).
Conclude with Pater and My dear and sweet... (1 minute).
The particular examination is made the first time in the morning, then during the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament (which we advise to make possibly halfway during the day), and lastly in the evening.
We are not talking here of an examination apart, but of an important point of the general examination: a point, nonetheless, that has to sum up briefly all the acts of the particular examination during the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
Besides the three periods set out for the particular examination, there are other secondary ones such as at midday,
at the Angelus bell, at the chiming of the hours, or when moving from one task to another... These become reference points in our day which give us a rapid review of our resolution, help us to keep a check on our soul, and are a guarantee of true spiritual growth.
1 This is the method of Saint Ignatius seen under the special light of the gospel trinomial and divided into its logical and progressive order.
2 My dear and sweet Mother Mary, keep your holy hand upon me, guard my mind, my heart and my senses that I may never commit sin. Sanctify my thoughts, affections, words and actions so that I may please you and your Jesus, my God, and reach heaven with you. Jesus and Mary, give me your holy blessing. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.