Method for the general examination of conscience.
The general examination of conscience, which should be made before going to confession, and in the evening before going to rest,—comprehends the five following parts.
The first is an act of thanksgiving to God for all the blessings and graces which, in His mercy, He has vouchsafed us during our lives, and particularly in the course of that day. It is most fit that we begin our examination by such an act; for by considering the goodness of Almighty God towards us, we are better enabled to conceive a holy confusion and sincere sorrow at the sight of our own ingratitude and sinfulness.
The second is, to beg the grace of God, that we may obtain a clear knowledge of our sins, so as to discover the real state of our souls, and that we may not yield to the illusions of the devil or of our own self-love. We shall be greatly assisted to make this prayer to God with fervour, by reflecting how apt we are to be blinded by self-love, and how inscrutable is the heart of man, unless illuminated by Him who searches the reins and the heart. Hence it behoves us to say with the Prophet David, "Enlighten, O God, my darkness Enlighten my eyes, that I may never sleep in death."
The third is, to search diligently into our conscience, in order to discover our sins. To perform this part well, we may consider the following points, or at least some of them:—1st, the number of our faults; 2nd, the malice and heinousness of them; 3rd, the affection we bear to them; 4th, the causes and occasions of them; 5th, which are habitual; lastly, it is most important that we reflect on the best means we can adopt to avoid them for the future. A traveller who is anxious to reach his destination, on perceiving that he has missed his way, directs all his attention towards entering into it again, and considers the best means to secure himself from the danger of again going astray. The same is the conduct of one who has undertaken to ascend to the top of a high mountain. For he does not employ his thoughts to consider only how often he has fallen in the way, but also he directs them towards considering how far he i« still from the top, and upon what may facilitate or hinder him from gaining the point. And so must we act when we are examining our conscience. For we must not rest satisfied with merely discovering our sins, but must also apply ourselves with attention and care to find out the best remedies to heal the evils of our souls, and to avoid falling into them for the future.
There are, however, three things which we must avoid in this examination: — 1st, we must guard ourselves against a false rigorism, which tends to find faults where there are none; 2nd, we must not be troubled if we cannot discover the true nature of our sins, and whether we have given way to them or not; but in this case we should rest satisfied with the obscure knowledge which we have of them, without harassing ourselves further; 3rd, we must not presume that we know ourselves thoroughly, and that we have succeeded in discovering all our faults; but however diligently we may have examined ourselves, we have always good reason to exclaim, with holy David, " From my hidden sins, deliver me, O Lord; and from the sins of others spare Thy servant." The great Apostle St. Paul says, "Though I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet I am not thereby justified." And such also should be our feeling, if we wish to walk safely in the path of humility, and to draw God's blessing on our soul.
The fourth part is an act of contrition for our sins. This part is most important; for what would it avail us to know our faults, if we were not sorry for them? This knowledge would only increase our guilt before God, and add to our confusion and shame. This sorrow must extend to all kinds of sins, however small and light they may appear; for even the slightest fault is a great evil, because it offends our most sweet and bountiful Lord, prevents the perfect union of our soul with His Divine Majesty, and would, if we died in that state, hinder us for a time from the enjoyment of the beatific vision. We ought to imitate on this point the conduct of the Saints, who were accustomed to detest most bitterly even their slightest faults. Thus we read of St. Aloysius, that he could not restrain himself from tears when he approached to confession, though he had only committed some slight faults during his whole life. Besides detesting the sins committed in the course of the day, it is an excellent practice to renew again our sorrow for the sins of our past life, and particularly for those whereby we have most defiled our soul, and offended most grievously His Divine Majesty. That our contrition may be offered to God in the spirit of humility, we may imagine, with St. Francis Borgia, that we stand as a criminal at the bar, loaded with chains, with the devil on one side ready to accuse us; or as a steward before his master, who calls him to a strict account.
The fifth part is a sincere purpose and firm resolution to avoid all sins for the future, and particularly to overcome those faults which we have committed in the course of the day. This resolution must extend, 1st, to those faults which are the causes of other sins; 2ndly, to those which are habitual. We must also resolve to adopt the proper means in order to keep our souls free from sin. Amongst the various means adopted by the Saints for this purpose, one was that of inflicting upon themselves some particular punishment, or of performing some determinate penance for their sins. Thus St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, after the examen, would sometimes retire to her cell and take a discipline. Thus also St. Ignatius used to inflict upon himself as many strokes of the discipline as were the sins or imperfections into which he had fallen.
Method for the particular examination of conscience.
The method for performing the particular examination of conscience is the same in substance as that which is used for the general one. In order to facilitate the good success of this pious exercise, St. Ignatius suggests the following means:—1. As soon as you awake in the morning, renew your resolution of gaining that virtue, or of subduing that vice, which forms the subject of your particular examination. 2. At noon, examine whether, and how often, you have failed in your good purpose, and renew again the resolution which you have made in the morning. 3. Each time that you fail in your resolution, place your hand on your heart, as a token of your sorrow for having broken it. 4. Examine yourself again in the evening, in the same manner as you did at noon, and renew the same resolution as before.[The particular examination in the evening is made together with the general examination of the day. We consider, first, the subject of the particular examination, and then proceed to examine in general the faults committed during the day.] 5. Note down on paper the number of times you have offended against that virtue, or fallen into that fault, and then compare one day, one week, and month with another. You will also be assisted to perform well this pious exercise, by observing the following points:—1. Examine what is the chief cause of your failings, the greatest hindrance to your sanctification, and direct against it your greatest attention and care. 2. Collect reasons, sentences, examples from holy Scripture, and from the doctrine and lives of the Saints, in order to animate yourself in the strife. 3. Direct your ejaculations, mortifications, and devotions to the same end. 4. Make every day frequent acts of the contrary virtue.
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.
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