July 06, 2006

An Examination of Conscience

By Mercedes W. Gutierrez *
With the buzz of summer in full swing, it is easy to get swept up in vacation planning, traveling, and family festivities.  But, just as we pause during Lent to allow for the spring cleaning of our souls, it is important that we stop during these weeks in Ordinary Time to reflect on where we’ve been spiritually and assess where we are headed.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), created a simple method for examining one’s habits that we, as lay faithful, can easily incorporate into our daily lives.  Using his Spiritual Exercises, in particular his Examination of Conscience, we can follow these five steps toward greater sanctification.

In the first step of our examination, we thank God for all he has given us.  How easy is it to spend an entire day running errands and never once stop to thank God for the gifts He has blessed us with that day?  When we offer thanksgiving to God for His spiritual and temporal graces, we enter into a prayerful dialogue with Him.  

Second, we ask God for the grace to know and correct our faults.  This prayer of petition opens our minds and hearts to better recognize the areas in our life where we lack charity or have not allowed the indwelling of God’s presence.  Just as Christ instructed us in the Gospel to “ask and it will be given to you,” we must ask for the grace to grow in holiness (Matt 7:7).

Next, we take time to reflect on the past and recognize the faults that we have committed in word, deed, thought or omission.  By reviewing those times throughout the day when we did not act with love, we are able to identify specific vices that we must combat or virtues that we can foster.  

After recognizing our faults, we humbly ask for God’s pardon.  Scripture reminds us that our God is compassionate, so with contrite hearts we approach the throne of grace confident in His mercy.  At this moment, our hearts move from contrition to peace and like King David we rejoice, “Happy the sinner whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven” (Ps 32:1).  

Trusting in God’s forgiveness, we finally propose an amendment to change our lifestyle and grow in virtue.  This firm resolution is integral to our examination because it provides a tangible path to holiness.  If we reflect daily on our weaknesses and propose ways to attack those vices, we will inevitably grow in virtue.  The Catechism teaches that “a virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good” (1803).  Virtuous people pursue goodness and choose it in concrete ways.  

We will become God’s saints if we examine our consciences daily with a firm desire to rid sin out of our lives and make room for virtue.  Practice makes perfect!  Just as the Prophet sings in Lamentations: “Let us search and examine our ways that we may return to the Lord” (3:40).

Mercedes W. Gutierrez sits on the Board of Directors for ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women,) a non-profit, grassroots organization that promotes the New Feminism as proposed by Pope John Paul II. Mercedes and her husband Sergio live in Denver, Colorado.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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