Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Examination of Conscience... What is it?

"Examination of Conscience" sounds peculiar to modern ears. I teach high school. A typical teen reaction to "Examination of Conscience" is "Eeeewwww. What is THAT???"

Well, believe it or not, it's not as scary as it sounds. At least, it usually isn't.

So, what is an Examination of Conscience? It is simply an opportunity to stop and honestly reflect (in God's presence) on the condition of one's soul, on the way in which one is living the Christian life. This reflection takes only a few moments. We look at our day to see if we are living up our baptismal promises. We look at our actions to see if they befit a child of God. If not, then we simply ask God to forgive us and give us the strength to do better. The whole point of the examination of conscience is to make progress in the Christian life.

There are three basic examinations we can make: preventive, particular, and general.

The preventive examination usually takes place in the morning. We look at our usual faults and make a simple plan for the day on how to improve in those areas.

The particular examination focuses on what is called our predominant fault. Everyone has a predominant fault. It is the one area in which we fall most often. It is usual bound up with our personalities. Pride, selfishness, envy, greed, anger... these are some examples of predominant faults. These are ingrained sins that influence our daily actions and relationships. It is helpful to make the particular examination around midday. It is like a check-up. "How am I doing so far with this fault? What can I do better?"

The general examination takes place at night, usually just before bed. It is a time to review the day and to mark one's progress. Once again, we look at the areas in which we failed, and we ask forgiveness. But we also look at the times that we succeeded. That moment when I almost lost my temper, but by God's grace it was held in check. The gossip at the water cooler that I was able to avoid... by God's grace. By looking at our little successes we can see how God is really work in our daily lives. The general examination helps us to take our spiritual temperature. It also helps us prepare for the day ahead.

So, the examination of conscience is really a simply matter. It takes only a few minutes and, according to many saints, is very effective in nurturing our growth in Christ. It may be an excellent tool to help us enter more deeply into this Pauline Year.

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