an examination of conscience…

… harder than the act of making a confession is the examination of conscience that precedes it. It’s all that introspection and recalling of sins. I suppose a good examination of conscience is what prevents most people from making a regular habit of reconciliation.

It might be something as simple as thinking they don’t need to confess anything. No one has broken any commandants, so no harm no foul.

I suspect most people probably think they are good people. Personally, I think most people are good intentioned. But “good intentioned” and “goodness” aren’t the same thing, especially since one paves the road to hell.

Quite a few people I know and love think they are good people. They don’t break civil laws, cheat on their spouses and kick puppies. They’ve done no serious ill will against another so what do they have to confess? I can understand that thinking. It is the same thought process that kept me out of the confessional for over eight months. Oh, and there was the fact that I had no real intention of quitting the sin I would be confessing anyway, but we’ll save that lovely revelation for some other post.

So back to the examination. I have always hated exams. Exams at school, physicals at the doctor’s office. No one wants to find out they’re really stupid or are in failing health… because then we have to fix that. We have to study harder and start eating leafy greens and other horrible things like fiber; maybe even start exercising! *gasp* All that work and self improvement sucks. Its hard for us to imagine the end result of a degree or not dropping dead of a heart attack at 45. It’s all so abstract. Kind of like the idea of Heaven.

My Unfortunate Lutheran Friend doesn’t see the point in it all if we can live like self indulgent heathens our whole lives and confess once on our death bed and be in the clear. Never mind the Good Thief in the Bible. I just think people look for any justification to not have to look within themselves and realize that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t such good people after all.

With a proper examination of conscience we have to recall and confess every ugly thought, derogatory comment, uncharitable reaction, piece of useless gossip we spread, and every time we silently cursed the jack hole that cut us off in our morning commute. Yes, I now these are venial sins. However, left unchecked and accounted for, these venial sins begin to morph into uglier things. Bigger things.

These unexamined and unconfessed venial sins make it easier for us to slop around in the muckier mortal stuff.

One of the hardest things for me to come to grips with was the fact that I wasn’t as good a person as I initially thought. And I honestly believe had it not been for The Church or the sacrament of confession I would die thinking I was indeed a good person… only to find out too late I was just good intentioned.

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  • I think my biggest hurdle regarding confession is having to confess to another person. I'm good confessing to God, but I really, really, really hesitate confessing to a person; even if that person is in persona Christae (sp?).I wish I could figure a way for me to get past that, but it makes it super hard…which may be the point.

  • NBW

    Very good post, Kat. I really find your description of proper examination of conscience very helpful!

  • Michael D.

    Breaking a commandant is a sin?

  • Winglet Driver

    I'm one of the minority of men who read your site and love your sense of humor, which was present even in this serious post. One thing that I love about the sacraments in general is how they are not only good for us spiritually, but also treat us physically, emotionally and psychologically. We get more grace from them when properly disposed and we receive more benefit from them psychologically when likewise disposed. God doesn't just treat part of us, He treats us holistically.

  • Yes, the examination of conscience part is hardest. Hard enough in any age, and today there is a ton of distractions, within and without, to fight against, simply in order to get into the right state that allows for that examination to happen in the first place.Generally, the longer away from confession the harder it will be to go as time goes on. A lifetime of that avoidance, and its consequent imprisonment of the will to make confession, will not suddenly vanish when one is on their deathbed. All that same unchanging neglect and refusal to partake of the sacrament will remain more solid than ever, but now with an added lifetime's weight of sin. Horrible.No, deathbed conversions are not regular or typical by any means.

  • Of course, that being said, God's grace is open to each soul to the last millisecond of life.

  • Ignatius of Loyola had retreatants (and those under his spiritual direction) examine their consciences 3 time a day (on rising, at noon, and on retiring for the day), but concentrating on the 1 sin one was working on correcting that week (a new sin each week to avoid scruples). The object of this exercise was not to bemoan one's failures but to observe the work of God's Grace in correcting the fault. If one is interested in this practice, find a good Jesuit (or a knowlegeable good confessor) to guide you through the practice. The Jebbie/confessor is neccessary as this is a powerful prayer and the Adversary will take notice if you take up the practice.

  • Reminds me of "the Art of Dying Well" by St Robert Bellermine S.J. "he who wishes to die well must live well"Dear Kat May Shamelessly ask your readers to pray for my dying methodist Grandmother, that she embrace the Holy Faith before she dies and that A Priest can be found to give her the last Sacraments.

  • Anonymous

    General Confessions once in a while are a great way of examining the conscience while confessing the sins.Dan

  • TCN

    I do find that confessing the sin makes it shrivel up and vanish, to some extent. We make our sins so huge before we go to confess, and then realize that we are just a fallible human, no more and no less. God is always bigger than the sin. I finish my examination, thinking I am carrying a boatload, and discover it was just a dinghy.Of course, then I fill the darned thing up again, but that's life.

  • Michael D.

    I try to go to confession at least once a month but I have to admit that I need the examination of conscience to orient myself properly.

  • Tim

    Using the Stations of the Cross as an examination of conscience works wonders. Just one a day over a fortnight if you're pressed for time.

  • doughboy

    i keep a running list between confessions in a small black book (i know, how ironic is that) so that i won't forget. i'm terrible with the examination of conscience 'on the spot' as it were. but ruminations throughout the day, every day, bring to mind those cringeworthy things that need confessing – so the list works for me. of course, i have to schedule my confessions with my spiritual director, which i combine with spiritual direction. just another mad catholic: prayer offered for your grandmother.

  • "Oh, and there was the fact that I had no real intention of quitting the sin I would be confessing anyway, but we'll save that lovely revelation for some other post."Or not. Evangelicals have a habit of openly discussing their sins (because they don't have outlets like sacramental confession), but we Catholics don't have to indulge public curiosity by doing the same. It's ok to nix the lovely post revealing your horrible doings and keep such things to oneself…

  • Christine, I do realize this isn't iConfess. And believe me, I had no intention of revealing any such thing. I do have a post in the works discussing the thinking behind not being truly contrite and the nature of confession sprinkled with a little Calvinist heresy. That was all I meant.

  • The more i confess the more i see the need to go for confession not out of scrupulosity but the realization that i am really dust. and dust by definition is dirty.