The secret to holiness and growth in sanctity is growth in virtue and avoidance of vice, i.e. do what pleases God and avoid what displeases Him. A necessary means for this is self-awareness and an examined life. To this end, the practice of an “examination of conscience” is most helpful. Over the next year, I will be sharing a very good and thorough examination primarily taken from Examination of Conscience for Adults: A Comprehensive Examination Of Conscience Based On Twelve Virtues For The Twelve Months Of The Year, by Rev. Donald Miller, C.Ss.R. It’s a tried and true source of wisdom for those seeking to deepen their relationship with God. I hope you will enjoy it and that it will, indeed, bring you closer to our merciful and loving Lord.
Self-examination has always been considered a necessary means of progress in virtue. All Religious Orders and congregations have provision in their rules for at least one daily examination of conscience. While the practice is also necessary for lay people, there have been few booklets offered to them whereby a systematic examination of conscience might be made at definite times. Lists of sins may be found in prayer books and pamphlets, but frequently they lack completeness, or they make no clear-cut distinctions between mortal and venial sin, or they make no reference to the helps and counsels that might build up virtue and prevent sin.
The object of this examen is to initiate lay people into the practice of concentrating their efforts at self-perfection on one virtue a month. It provides a fairly complete list of mortal sins to be avoided, of venial sins to be corrected, and of helps and counsels that may be practiced. For each month a short explanation of the virtue to be practiced is given, an aspiration is suggested for frequent use, and a prayer is added containing sorrow for the past and resolve for the future.
The division of the obligations of the Christian life into twelve virtues is not one that can be made without some degree of arbitrary arrangement of material. There will be overlapping, some repetition, and not always a strictly logical inclusion of questions under a given head. The practical purpose has been kept in mind, rather than the theoretical; an effort has been made to bring into each month reminders of some of the fundamental obligations every Christian has, as these can be related to given virtues.
A warning should be given to souls who are inclined to scrupulosity. Such souls are frequently disturbed by reading lists of sins, because they erroneously think themselves guilty, where they are not guilty at all. They should have permission of their confessor before they undertake to make a minute examination of conscience, and in every doubt must obey their confessor strictly. Aside from the scrupulous, some persons may find doubts arising from certain questions because circumstances not mentioned may confuse particular issues. It is to be remembered at all times that a mortal sin is not committed unless three conditions are present, viz., sufficient reflection, full consent of the will, and a violation of God’s law in a serious matter. The mortal sins listed represent only objectively serious matter; if one or both of the other conditions necessary for the commission of a mortal sin be lacking in a particular case, the guilt would not be incurred. In prudent doubt, a confessor should be asked for a solution.
It is recommended that once a week during each month, the examen for that month be read carefully and thoughtfully. On some occasions this would be best done before confession. The “javelin” prayer of the month should be said frequently every day.
Faith is the theological virtue, infused by God, by which we firmly assent to all the truths that God has revealed to mankind because God cannot deceive or be deceived. Faith is the foundation of all justification, the beginning of all supernatural virtue, the starting point of sanctification and perfection. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
While faith is infused as a free gift by God, it nevertheless is given in strict accordance with the nature of man, and after it has been given it requires intelligent cooperation lest it be weakened or lost. This cooperation means three things:
1. Every Catholic must pray for the preservation and increase of his faith. Ordinarily, prayer is necessary for the attainment of any grace from God; since faith is the greatest grace, one who has received it must pray throughout life for perseverance and strengthening in his faith.
2. Every Catholic must strive to be faithful to the obligations imposed through faith. To offend God deliberately and repeatedly is to run the risk of someday finding that faith has been lost through failure to cooperate with God’s grace.
3. Every Catholic must use his mind both to understand the motives for believing God’s word, which are perfectly satisfactory to human reason, and to know the truths revealed by faith, in which nothing contradictory, nothing inconsistent, nothing intellectually incredible is to be found. On the negative side, this means that every Catholic is bound to preserve himself, in so far as possible, from every influence that would prove dangerous to his faith.
Therefore all sins against faith center about either the denial of one’s faith, or the neglect of means to preserve and increase it, or the deliberate entrance into occasions that might destroy it.
I. Mortal Sins
1.Have I denied that I was a Catholic, or openly expressed my disbelief in any doctrine of the Catholic faith?
2. Have I affiliated myself, even for a short time, with a non-Catholic sect or religious body?
3. Have I suggested or encouraged doubts about the Catholic faith in the minds of others?
4. Have I seriously expressed the opinion that all religions are equally good or equally true or equally pleasing to God?
5. Have I neglected to settle, by reading, studying, consulting, etc., serious doubts about my faith, when such neglect was evidently leading to a loss of faith?
6. Have I, without the necessary permission, read or kept or given to others books, such as Protestant Bibles, books on the Index of Prohibited Publications, books that pretend or profess to disprove the truth of the Catholic faith or that profess to prove the truth of a religion contrary to my faith?
7. Have I, without a serious reason, associated with persons who tried to destroy my faith?
8. Have I attended meetings or listened to speeches or sermons, which I knew would destroy or seriously weaken my faith?
9. Have I joined a secret society forbidden by the laws of the Church, such as the Masons, the Oddfellows, etc?
10. Have I, without a serious reason, taken part in a Protestant church service?
11. Have I contributed to the advancement of a non-Catholic religious sect or movement as such?
12. Have I consulted a fortune-teller in the belief that I could learn something about the future, or made others think that I could tell their future when I knew that there was no adequate natural means of so doing?
13. Have I attended a spiritualistic séance or practiced occult rituals?
14. Have I planned to marry, or actually pretended to enter the state of marriage, before a minister, or a judge, or a civil magistrate? Have I approved (directly or indirectly) of other Catholics doing this or stood up to them when they did it? Have I cared to inform myself about what the Church teaches with regard to marriage?
15. Have I made provision to safeguard the faith of my children? I have I made sure that they are receiving or have received a solid Catholic education, either in Catholic schools or Parish Religious Education programs? Have I realized that I am the primary educator in the faith of my children by both word and example?
II. Venial Sins
1.Have I been irreverent in church and before the Blessed Sacrament?
2. Have I disturbed and distracted others in their prayers and devotions?
3. Have I kept others from prayer or devotions for some selfish reason?
4. Have I carefully avoided giving any sign that I was a Catholic because I might have been subjected to some ridicule if I did?
5. Have I read only such books and magazines as might be called dangerous, even though they are not strictly forbidden, e.g., books giving false and worldly views of life, novels that are frothy and barren of any principle?
6. Have I seldom, if ever, made an explicit act of faith?
7. Have I been slow in trying to banish or overcome doubts against faith?
8. Have I been careless and half-hearted in teaching my children to love their faith and to make acts of faith?
9. Have I deliberately passed up direct opportunities of informing others about the Catholic faith by going out of my way to avoid speaking of it?
10. Have I accepted the will of God and believed firmly in His Providence in the sorrows of life?
11. Have I been irreverent in the use of Sacramentals, such as Holy Water, the Rosary, blessed images, the Sign of the Cross, etc.?
III. Helps And Counsels
1.Have I frequently thanked God for my faith?
2. Have I prayed for stronger faith every day?
3. Have I purchased or borrowed books that could enlighten me further about my faith?
4. Have I read any Catholic newspapers or magazines to gain a better knowledge of my faith?
5. Have I thought at all about the important truths of faith: death, judgment, heaven, hell?
6. Have I tipped my hat, or bowed my head, when passing a Catholic church?
7. Have I treated priests, as representatives of Christ, when interacting with or speaking to or about them?
8. Have I visited the Blessed Sacrament when opportunities presented themselves?
9. Have I sacrificed any time or self-interest to attend devotions or sermons not commanded?
10. Have I invited non-Catholics to attend a Catholic service with me, or to read any Catholic literature?
11. Have I placed signs of my faith in my home, such as a crucifix, pictures of the Blessed Mother or the saints?
12. Have I carried a Rosary, or worn a medal, or had anything on my person showing my faith?
13. Have I contributed prayers, services, or money to Catholic missionary organizations or laborers for the spread of the faith?
14. Have I tried to see in others, not their faults and sins, but the image of God and the souls for which He shed His Blood?
15. Have I tried every day to recall at set intervals the presence of God near me and within me?
16. Have I, after a serious sin, realized that so long as that sin remained on my soul I was an enemy of God and deserving of being condemned to Hell?
17. Have I made frequent and devout use of the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion?
“Javelin” Prayer: Lord, increase our faith!
Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, he who followeth Thee walketh not in darkness. Remember that I am one of those to whom Thou hast said: “You are the light of the world.” Remember that I must no longer live of myself, but that Thou must live in me. This is impossible unless I first believe all that Thou hast revealed. Therefore permit not that human folly should ever obscure my mind and make me as the blind leading the blind. Grant me a strong faith that I may never cease to think and speak and act according to Thee and Thy holy Gospel. May I firmly believe with an explicit and perfect faith; may I recognize God’s presence everywhere; may I never forget, my Jesus, Thy love; may I be constantly mindful of the mystery of Thy Incarnation and life and sufferings, the ineffable grace of Thy Sacraments, the need I have of union with Thee, the necessity of the help of Mary my Mother, the importance of prayer, the value of humility, the strength and wisdom of Thy cross and the purpose of my life for time and eternity. Grant that my faith may be so firm as to be unmoved by the impulses of fallen human nature; so bright as not to be obscured by the fascination of worthless things; so simple that I may believe with a blind and obedient faith; so efficacious that I may think and speak according to what I believe; so strong that I may resist every temptation of the evil one. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all my patron saints grant these, my requests. Amen.
“If thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
Rev. Fr. Yoelvis A. Gonzalez