The examination of conscience is not just something we do the night before we go to confession, at least not if we’re serious about answering Jesus’ call to “be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
For those who truly want to conquer their vices and become a beacon of light and love in the world, St. Ignatius of Loyola recommends the regular practice of two kinds of examinations of conscience, a general and a particular. The general examination covers all of our defects while the particular examination concentrates on one fault or sin for a specific period of time.
The Particular Examination
St. Ignatius ranks the particular examination first in importance. Whereas the purpose of the general examination is to purify the soul and prepare us for sacramental confession, the particular examination helps us to focus on a particular fault until we have conquered it.
For this reason, he recommends that we make a particular examination of conscience twice a day and keep a written account of the number of times we committed this fault during the day. This helps us to see our improvement (or lack of it) and enables us to take whatever steps are necessary to continue addressing this fault.
” . . . (W)e have a better chance to master our tendencies if we take them one at a time and concentrate our efforts on pride, lust, or laziness, instead of scattering volitional energy over the whole field of our passions,” advises the late Fr. John Hardon.
“But among the aberrations some are more prominent than others, and among these one generally predominates. If I can isolate these dominant tendencies, manifested in a certain pattern of my sins, and work on them, my labor will not only be more effective because less dissipated, but will be directed at the source of my evil inclinations. I shall be laying the axe to the root of the tree.”
For instance, if your biggest fault is a loose tongue, make a specific request to God every morning for His help in fighting this particular fault during the day. Then monitor yourself as the day progresses, writing down any occasions where you might have said something harsh, untruthful, impatient, etc. St. Ignatius recommends that we impose some kind of penance for every one of the faults we commit. For instance, for every nasty comment, say a decade of the Rosary; for every lie or half-truth told, forfeit a favorite snack or dessert.
Fr. Hardon highlights several dramatic success stories of those who employed these techniques, such as St. Francis de Sales who had a tendency toward depression, but who gradually became a modern apostle of joyous confidence in God.
(Tomorrow we will look at the General Examination.)
Today in prayer, ask God to show you what specific fault or sin He is calling you to recognize in your own life, and entrust Him with it. If He is calling you to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, go! He wants to heal you and free you from whatever it is that is keeping you from growing closer to Him at this time.
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