THE NEED FOR DAILY EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE.
As an early Church writer says:Above all, get to know yourself. Certainly nothing is harder or more laborious. But when you do attain self-knowledge, you will come to know God, and treat other people better. Even virtuous pagans used to practise self-examination. The lowliest chestnut-seller on the banks of the Tiber tallies up her daily takings, how much the chestnuts have cost her, and how long she has taken to sell them. Let’s speak clearly: examination has always been practised by all discerning men and women who take an interest in the things of God or those of the world. What have you been concerned about, since you took on all those commitments? St. Josemaria asked. About yourself, or about the glory of God? About yourself, or about others? About yourself, your own things, your silly little things, your wretchedness, your flashes of pride, your occasions of sensuality? What do you spend your time thinking about? Meditate on this and then let your heart act on your will and your mind. In the first place there is the devil, the enemy of our holiness, who ever since the beginning has concentrated his efforts on stopping us from examining our hearts, because he knows the benefits that a soul gains by daily examination of conscience. St Peter warned us: Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Laziness is another enemy. One of the first signs of laziness is precisely carelessness in the examination of conscience. I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man without sense, Sacred Scripture says, and lo, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.
Prayer: How did I behave during the prayer? Did I carry out, this day, my resolutions? Have I had presence of God? Did I go about with a proper spirit of recollection…?
Expiation: How did I receive, today, the setbacks coming from God’s hand? Those that my companions afforded me, by their character? Those caused by my own wretchedness? Did I manage to offer our Lord, as expiation, the very sorrow I feel for having offended him – so often! Did I offer him the shame of my interior blushes and humiliations, in considering how little I advance on the path towards virtue?
Action: Did I always act, during the day, as our Lord would have done? In this thing, that thing, and that other one?…
This examination is compatible with any other system one might follow: for example, with that used by those who consider how the day went, hour by hour; or also with that of others who examine their obligations towards God, their neighbour and themselves: these three points can also be considered under the headings of prayer, expiation and action. And likewise with any other manner of doing the examination of conscience. This is the way we Christians must travel, St. Josemaria tells us. We have to cry out ceaselessly with a strong and humble faith, “Lord, don’t trust me. But I, I put my trust in you.” Then, as we sense in our hearts the love, the compassion, the tenderness of Christ’s gaze upon us, for he never abandons us, we shall come to understand the full meaning of those words of St Paul, virtus in infirmitate perficitur(power is made perfect in weakness). If we have faith in our Lord, in spite of our failings – or rather, with our failings – we shall be faithful to our Father, God; his divine power will shine forth in us, sustaining us in our weakness. Discouragement comes when we exaggerate or when we fail to make our struggle specific. We need to specify clearly what has gone well in our interior life, what has gone badly, and what could go better. St. Josemaria insisted: as a good doctor, upon seeing a patient, does not tell him that his whole body is decayed, so I beg you, for love of Jesus Christ, to have confidence. A true spirit of examination is altogether opposed to scruples. Getting down to specifics prevents pessimism by singling out points of infection and helping us evaluate them objectively. My daughters and sons, see the positive aspect of things. What may seem very terrible in life is not that black, not that dark. If you are specific, you will not arrive at pessimistic conclusions.
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