During the first article on reconciliation, we explored the concept of Metanoia and began an examination of conscience using the Beatitudes as described by Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. We established that the first step in the process is a complete Examination of Conscience.
What is an Examination of Conscience?
Within the Ignatian methods of prayer, there is the daily examen which is used to explore a particular vice that is being overcome or a particular virtue that is being cultivated. There are many guides/pamphlets/ methods available. The Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount, can be used as a guide to assess where there are failings. Blessed are the peacemakers; where have I failed to bring peace to my family or my corner of the universe?
The moral catechesis of the Gospel, the letters found in the Epistles, for example, Paul’s list of major transgressions in Corinthians, Galatians, and in Romans can be used, but bear in mind that while frequently Paul is supportive and kind, many times, he is as full off hellfire and brimstone as any Southern preacher.
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6: 9-11
We are invited to use our bodies for God’s Glory yet many people
were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die (Romans 1: 29-32)
Although these verses point out man’s sinfulness, I find that the Ten Commandments are the basic Cliff Notes of moral behavior and of the proper relationship with the Triune God. During the period of seven or so years that I was away from the church, I considered these to be the Ten Suggestions.
The Ten Commandments as an Examination of Conscience
I have spoken to a number of priests who have each indicated that bringing a list of your transgressions with you is far more helpful than trying to do an examination of conscience on the fly during confession – “Uh, I think I did that 4 or 5 times, and that was once or twice, but if she had not done this, I would not have done that.” The easiest format to be used is the Ten Commandments. The first inclination is to say, “Yup no problem, got you covered, I haven’t killed anyone, I go to church pretty regularly, so, I am good to go.”
Let’s take a much deeper look at these…
The first commandment says, “I am the Lord, your God. You shall have no other gods besides me.”
Yup. Got that one covered. He is in His heaven, I know He is there, and He knows I know He is there. Next commandment, please…
Wait a minute, let’s take a closer look at that one for a moment…
Anyone or anything that comes between you and God can become a god ( lower case ‘g’ ) of sorts. For example, 30, or 45 minutes of exercise per day is a very good thing for the human body. Working out 4 to 6 hours per day, building huge muscles for no other reason than sheer vanity, running a marathon per week, and all of the training that involves makes exercise a god. You give your time, attention and effort to physical pursuits, not spiritual ones.
Staying on the first three for a moment, do I give God time every day in prayer?
How much time, is it enough, does it cultivate the relationship?
Do I show up for duty and listen for the orders for the day?
Have I ever told a lie in confession?
Think about that one… you are in confession and you lie, like the Big Guy isn’t going to notice that??
“Honor your father and your mother.”
No problem, I am here and they are thousands of miles away.
Take a step back and look at it again.
Relationships. This commandment is all about relationships and about all relationships.
Do I neglect my duties as a spouse or parent?
My wife and I have been married nearly 54 years, do I take her for granted, do I treat her as less than my gift from God?
Have I given my family a good religious example?
Do I care for my aged or infirmed relatives?
Relationships – not just parents, but all relationships.
“Thou shall not kill.”
Easy, done that, or didn’t do that, so, can we move on now?
Have I physically harmed anyone?
Have I psychologically harmed anyone?
Have I permitted or encouraged an abortion?
Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
“Thou shall not steal”
Have I downloaded music or movies for which I have not paid?
Do I gamble excessively and thereby deny my family their needs?
Are my 10-minute breaks closer to 30, and my lunch hours closer to 90 minutes or more?
Do I pay my debts promptly?
Wait a minute, how is that stealing?
You are denying your creditor the money he is entitled to based on a contract you signed. By your holding the funds, he cannot pay his employees or creditors.
Work through the list, not from the concept of “me and mine” but rather all of the relationships, all of the interactions, all of the ramifications.
How Long Does an Examination of Conscience Take?
The easy answer to the question is that it depends.
The number of transgressions, the length of time between confessions, the depth of the examination itself, it varies person to person, or confession to confession. Seventeen seconds is probably not enough time spent doing an examination of conscience. Ten minutes, 15 minutes, 3/4 of an hour, may be enough, or just a start, no way to tell.
A good examination of conscience includes all of the “I better not tell him about this one” sins, and it will result in a confession which has the unmistakable peace in your soul that being close to the Trinity will produce.
A good examination of conscience is open to the conviction of the Spirit as well. Essentially, more will be revealed. That is, the better you get at really digging into your past sins, the more of them will come to the surface. Or maybe sitting with the list going over it for the 8th time, when all of a sudden, a cosmic 2X4 slaps you upside the head.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says clearly in Paragraph 1457 that it must be at least once a year.
However, 1458 refers to frequent confession. So, how often is best – weekly, monthly, less often?
How do you feel about playing Russian Roulette with your soul? The sins are called either mortal or grave. What goes into a grave? Dead bodies – mortal means dead, grave means dead.
If you die in the state of mortal sin, you go to Hell, no questions, do not pass “Go”, do not collect $200 ( well, it used to be $200, now I think it is $500 ). Do you want to be standing in front of the Big Guy and tell him, “Well, I was going to go next Lent, but you called me too early.”
How often should you go to confession, at least as often as necessary, and more often to get the benefits of increasing the strength that CCC 1458 tells us about?
Let’s take a brief moment here and consider one of the distinctions between Catholics and our other Christian brothers. We each believe that our sins can be and are forgiven, but Catholics have a state called Purgatory and our other Christian brothers do not. What’s up with that?
Purgation or atonement for sins
Purgation or atonement for sins is an ancient concept and appears in Jewish culture. After all, Christians are only renegade Jews, so if it is good enough for our Jewish brothers, we must consider it. The primary source of the atonement of sins comes from 2 Maccabees 12:40-46. This is one of the books that does not exist in the KJV, so, it is not typically known to our other Christian brothers.
Why do we have or need purgation or atonement anyhow?
Consider an 8-year-old boy is outside playing with a bat and a ball. Suddenly, there is a loud crash and perhaps a woman’s scream.
Timmy, the 8-year-old boy, goes to Mrs. Jones and tells her that he is the one who broke the window.
Mrs. Jones forgives him and compliments him on his honesty.
The “sin” or transgression is forgiven, so everything is cool, right?
Not really, Mrs, Jones still has a broken window. Timmy needs to replace/repair it, that is, Timmy needs to atone for his transgression.
In Confession/ Reconciliation, the sin is forgiven. However, there may be a bit of cleansing or atonement still required. That is the nature of Purgatory. Christ Jesus told us that nothing unclean would enter Heaven. Unless we are without blemish, we may need to spend a bit of time atoning for the transgressions we failed to get to in Confession / Reconciliation.