An Illustrated Guide To Examining Your Conscience
1. Open Yourself Up to God’s Presence
Practical tip: find a quiet corner in your home or in a chapel. Having a sacred image in front of you is ideal. Light a candle. Take a few moments to breathe and relax. Start by making the sign of the Cross. This first moment of our examination of conscience is a time to turn our heart’s gaze in the direction of the Lord and rediscover his love for us. Reading a brief passage from Sacred Scripture might be helpful too.
2. Let God Pull Out the Photo Album
Before we review our day, the idea is to remember who we are from God’s point of view: beloved children.
Try recalling some of the passages from scripture (God’s photo album). Let him tell you about how he rescued Israel, how he got Joseph out a tough spot, how he forgave David. Remember, liturgy and Sacred Scripture are the two sources where our own memory is renewed and transformed into God’s memory. Bring to mind the patience and faithfulness that God showed with the people of Israel. Recall how often human frailty seemed to have had the last word, until God found a way to show that he is the Lord of history and the Lord of our story too. Bring to mind all those people that Jesus loved, all those hearts he touched, all those wounds he healed … remember that you are right now in the presence of that same Jesus. Think of how he might talk of these people, and then remember that he thinks of you in the same way.
3. Talk About Your Day With Jesus
With all this in mind, review your day, but do so in conversation with Jesus. Go over the main points in your day: what struck you, what was beautiful, what was difficult, what wasn’t clear, etc. No need to be rigid here, give your memory a little space and time and allow things to flow smoothly.
Once you have finished, pause, take a break, and be silent. Here, we want to listen closely with our hearts. Remember this is a dialogue, not a monologue. Before getting down to the specifics, try to meditate on where you think the Lord might be leading you by what you are experiencing, by your attitudes, your actions, your encounters, your thoughts, your trials, your victories, etc.
– Lord, who do you call me to be? Lord, who do you see when you look at me?
– Lord, how are you working in my life? Where are you?
– Lord, in what ways am I growing closer to you? In what ways am I falling away from you? How much am I putting others in the center of my life?
– Am I cooperating with you? Am I perceiving and listening to your voice?
4. Admit Your Faults
Thank God profoundly for the way that he is working in your life, for how he never gives up on you. In doing so, it is natural to also recognize that there have been ways that you haven’t been a faithful son or daughter. You’ve tripped up on the path. You’ve denied your own identity. You have rejected God’s truthful gaze of yourself and others and imposed your own vision.
Here, it’s important to try to recognize both what you did specifically as well as some possible causes as to why. What led you act the way you did? How can you avoid or improve the next time?
This part can be tough, but trust that mercy and freedom are just on the other side. When you recognize your faults, don’t beat around the bush. Admit that it was you who did them, that you are responsible for those actions. Remember, without responsibility, there can be no reconciliation.
Sometimes we can be excellent at justifying or sweetening up our own sins. Jesus is merciful and loving, but he is also the Truth. If you aren’t so sure whether something was a sin or just a temptation, I would suggest you take a look here. Passing over a list of possible sins can sometimes give us a more objective look at things. Online you can find a plethora of good material that can help you with this step. One we suggest is Laudate an app that offers an examination of conscience and preparation for confession.
5. Renew Your Baptism: Going From Death To Life
Many times after recognise a fault or a sin, the temptation is to think, “Ok, how can I fix this?” Sin is something, however, that can be “fixed”, and certainly not by our own strength. Sin needs to be forgiven. What’s more, sin causes wounds. Wounds needs to be treated and healed; otherwise they fester.
As such, coming to the end of your examination of conscience, now is the time to immerse yours sins in the River Jordan. We are only baptized once, but too often we forget to renew our awareness of being baptized. Too often we forget that “baptism is the first and chief sacrament of the forgiveness of sins: it unites us to Christ, who died and rose, and gives us the Holy Spirit” (CCC 985).
Place them, then, on the altar and allow the Holy Spirit to transform these deadly realities into living ones. Authentic repentance allows the Holy Spirit space to act: disobedience to God now becomes an act of repentance, of obedience. Something new, something good, something beautiful is born: the spirit of sonship is taking root in your heart!
Keep in mind that this daily act of repentance should go hand in hand with monthly confession. Called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism,” the sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism. If you become aware of having committed a mortal sin, then you should look to go to confession as soon as you can (and abstain from receiving communion). If you aren’t so sure about the difference between mortal and venial sins, you can take a look at the explanation in the Catechism.
6. Drawing Up A Game Plan
In sports, a good coach will always set aside time to look back over last week’s game with his staff. We can follow a similar game-plan in the spiritual life. After reviewing your day, take a moment to think of how you can improve tomorrow. No need to be naïve, you aren’t going to graduate from the little leagues to the Super Bowl in one day. Still, either we are moving forward or we are going backward. Try to come up with some simple way of growing in what you believe Christ is calling you to grow in.
Keep this idea or reflection in your mind and try to recall it the moment you wake up the next day. Maybe you can even write it down on a sticky note (it can be a phrase you wrote, or maybe a scripture passage that spoke to you, or even just a word). Much of our day depends on the first moments. Forming the habit of briefly exercising what we set out for us in our examination of conscience can be very healthy in our life as Christians.
7. Give Thanks
Finally, remember that the examination of conscience is not a scrupulous exercise of pointing a magnifying glass on all of the dirt in your life and feeling bad about it. It should be joyful experience of redemption. Take a moment to rejoice and give thanks to God.
Many of the intuitions and some phrases were taken from a book written by Fr. Rupnik: Human Frailty, Divine Redemption