Advantages of the examination of conscience.
The examination of conscience, when duly performed, is the source of many spiritual blessings, the first of which is a solid knowledge of ourselves. We read in history that even the sages of Pagan antiquity looked upon the knowledge of oneself as a great gift, and the highest qualification of the followers of true wisdom, and hence arose amongst them that common saying, 'Know thyself.' Now this knowledge of oneself, which is so highly appreciated by all wise men, is a fruit of the worthy examination of conscience; for it is by the practice of this holy exercise that we discover to what defects we are most subject, what virtues we most stand in need of, how we are advancing in the path of justice, and what are the best means for securing our eternal salvation.
As those Christians who often examine their conscience attain to a solid knowledge of themselves, and may je said to walk in the light, 'keeping constantly their souls in their own hands;' so, on the contrary, those who neglect this holy exercise are labouring under spiritual blindness, and may be said to walk in darkness and in the shadow of death. They resemble the Bishop of Laodicea, of whom mention is made by St. John in the Apocalypse; for he thought himself to be rich, well provided with everything; whereas Almighty God declared him to be poor, and naked, and in want of all things. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." They think that they are going on well, that they are performing many good actions, that they are advancing in virtue every day, whereas there is perhaps at the bottom of their heart some vicious affection which corrupts and destroys all the merit of their labours before God. Neglecting this means of salvation, they pass through life in a state of constant distraction and of spiritual darkness, and when they are presented before the tribunal of God, they will hear those words, "Amen, I say to you, I know you not."
The second blessing which flows from the examination of conscience is the spirit of humility, the contempt of ourselves. This is, however, only a consequence of the first blessing, — the solid knowledge of ourselves. For when we know ourselves thoroughly, when we discover our own baseness and misery, and become conscious of our own sinfulness and corruption, we are thereby greatly assisted and impelled to subdue our pride, to humble our arrogant nature, and to conceive a holy hatred and contempt of ourselves. It is related of St. Francis Borgia, that having directed his particular study and care to attain a clear and thorough knowledge of himself, he acquired such a spirit of humility and contempt of himself, that he wondered how the people whom he met in the way did not rise against him, and fill him with reproaches and shame. One day, being on a journey, he was met by one of his friends, a man of quality, who seeing him destitute of all the conveniences which he had enjoyed in the world, and feeling compassion for him, begged of him to take a little more care of himself. The Saint thus answered him, with a cheerful countenance: 'Let not the condition in which you see me in the least trouble you; I am not so unprovided of all things as you think, for I always send a harbinger who takes care to have everything ready for me.' On being asked who was that harbinger, he replied, that it was the knowledge of himself, and the consideration of what he had deserved for his sins. 'Being in possession of this knowledge,' said the Saint, 'wherever I arrive, and however bad the lodging I find, I always think I am better treated than I deserve.'
Another blessing which flows from the examination of conscience is, great purity of heart. The souls of those Christians who practise it may be compared to a house over which the master keeps a constant watch, taking care that it shall be often swept and cleaned from dust; whilst, on the contrary, the souls of those who neglect this holy exercise may be likened to a house which is deserted by its master, which is filled with all sorts of uncleanness, and left to go into ruin and decay. It is generally taught by the Saints, that if the faults which we commit, instead of being quickly rooted out, are allowed to remain in the soul, they grow stronger every day, and become more firmly fixed in it—impair its moral energy, diminish the power of Divine grace therein, and gradually produce hardness of heart, which is exactly the case of those who utterly omit the examination of conscience. For such a neglect raises, as it were, a thick veil before their minds, hiding from them their daily faults, by which their souls become almost imperceptibly filled with sins, which, getting more and more deeply rooted in the bottom of their hearts, at length succeed in making it impenetrable to the influence of grace. But far different is it with those who are careful to examine their conscience diligently, and to scrutinise their actions; for by this holy exercise they are enabled to discover their failures immediately, and destroy them before they have taken root in their hearts.
Lastly, another great advantage which arises from carefully and frequently examining our conscience is, a great confidence of attaining eternal salvation. No one, indeed, can feel a perfect certainty that he shall attain eternal life, since "man," as the Holy Ghost says, "knows not whether he is worthy of love or hatred." Yet there are certain signs which afford us sufficient ground for hoping that, by Divine grace, we are doing right, and walking in the way of salvation. One of these signs is the practice of frequently and devoutly examining our conscience; for if we judge ourselves during our lives, we shall escape being judged by the Lord at our death. "If we would judge ourselves," says St. Paul, "we should not be judged." If we examine our conscience carefully, and judge our own actions severely, in this life, we shall not fall into the hands of an angry Judge at the last day; but shall meet Him all sweetness and love, and our part will be amongst the elect of God. Now what is meant by judging ourselves but the looking carefully into the state of our souls, examining diligently how we are progressing in the way of justice, discovering and detesting our sins, and weeping over and correcting our evil habits?
Taken from - The Way to Heaven. A Manual of Devotion. By The Very Rev. John Baptist Pagani.