Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Daily Examination of Conscience

Dear Theophilus, 

During the summer months I like to catch-up on my reading list (and blog posts), getting to the books that have been piling up on my bedside table since Christmas. Having more time in the morning to devote to reading helps, but I also like to choose one or two lighter titles to help move things along. One thing I try not to do is sacrifice quality for quantity. That’s why I was happy to come across The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whisky and Song. 

As the title suggests, this book takes the reader on a journey through the relationship Catholicism has had throughout history with alcohol, weaving in the odd recipe and drinking song for good measure. What I wasn’t expecting when I picked up John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak’s book was how true it stayed to the orthodoxy of Catholic teaching. Subtitled From Apocalypse to Zinfandel, there’s a whole lot that The Bad Catholic’s Guide covers, way more than just one blog post (perhaps that’s why it’s a book). As my post title suggests, I want to delve a little more deeply into one of the ideas I found there. 

A few times scattered throughout The Bad Castholic’s Guide Zmirak refers to the Dominican monastic order. He talks about their devotion to prayer, their work ethic and the marvelous wines and liquors these devout monks have gifted to us. The one aspect of Dominican life that intrigued me, however, was the daily examination of conscience. At the end of each day, Dominicans are called to reflect on their daily experience, how they glorified God and how they sinned against Him. 

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize what a wonderful idea a daily examination of conscience is. Since reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism and returning to a more frequent practice of the sacrament of Reconciliation (though never as frequent as I should), I’ve discovered how much more in tune I am with my own shortcomings, with my tendencies to sin, and I try to make a much more concerted effort to avoid what brings me to sin (you can read about my ongoing struggle here). If examining my conscience and getting to Confession every couple of months helps me to sin less, I figure that examining my conscience daily will help me even more in my quest to be perfect as my Holy Father is perfect. (cf Mt 5:48) 

When approaching the Sacrament of Confession, a thorough examination of conscience is needed (Youcat 232, CCC 1450-1460). To be done properly, the examination should be done in prayerful silence since we need to reflect on our thoughts and actions over a longer period of time. Your examination of conscience can never be exhaustive, but you must approach the confessions of your sins with a contrite heart and the resolve to sin no more. 

Although a daily examination of conscience looks at a shorter period of time, it needs to be just as thorough as though we were preparing to celebrate the sacrament. Each night, as I end my day I try to honestly answer these questions, asking God’s forgiveness for where I’ve fallen short: 

  • What have I done to glorify God?
  • What have I done to attack the glory of God?
  • What have I done that I know is a sin?
  • Did I have any thoughts that could have lead me to sin?
  • Have I done or said anything that is hurtful to others?
  • Have I seen someone in need and not stopped to help?
  • What have I done to witness to God’s will?
  • How have I helped others grow closer to Christ? 

The list is not exhaustive, and the order and answers change from day to day. What I do find, is that by going through this daily examination of conscience, I resolve to be a better person tomorrow; and when I wake in the morning, I pray to God for the grace and strength to be that better person.

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