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Examining one's conscience, in 10 easy lessons

“For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation "is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation."
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890) | Public Domain

In trying to determine whether there has been any shifting along the path to perfectibility -- in either direction -- it is helpful to be able to hold in our thoughts, a realistic and measurable ideal.

It is understandable that the "Healing Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation," would begin with examining one's conscience.

If we are to honor God by respecting our own higher nature, by having a better understanding of what is possible to expect of ourselves, and to think about the ways in which -- even in our challenging human nature -- we can still try to be at least more "perfectible."

In the Roman Catholic tradition, expressed in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," Part I concerns "The Profession of Faith" which involves both man's capacity for knowing God, and mankind's desire for God -- the yearning for all that is good. We begin to understand how far mankind has come to know God, through the revelation of "God's Plan of Loving Goodness," in the stages of Divine Revelation through Jesus as "the Mediator."

The transmission of Divine Revelation through Jesus, in the Apostolic Tradition, through Sacred Scripture, and through the Heritage of Faith can best be considered in many ways as a Gift to mankind in order to increase our Happiness; and as Pope Francis reminds us in so many ways, "there is Joy in the Gospel."

Man's Response to God

As Christians, our own response to God is that "I believe:"

The Nicene Creed

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered, died, and was buried.

On the 3rd day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come."

The Nicene Creed is described more fully in Part I, Section Two of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (here); and is essentially a definition of terms, with links for each of the phrases of the Creed:

In thinking about preparing to examine one's conscience, we must reach a bit farther in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and consider Part Two: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery






1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer, labors for their conversion."

The seven sacraments are 'outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give Grace.' These include the "Sacraments of Christian Initiation," including Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist; and the "Sacraments of Healing," which include both Penance & Reconciliation, and The Anointing of the Sick. " The Sacraments At the Service of Communion" include both The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Matrimony.

But it is in Part Three, Section Two, Article 2055, that we find very significant statements that Jesus had made, with respect to the Ten Commandments:

"When someone asks him, 'Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?'

Jesus replies: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.'

The Decalogue must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law:"

Only through having a contrite heart can God's mercy be received. That is the nature of the gift of Penance and Reconciliation -- as the grace to continue to 'love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,' and to be able to love yourself; and in doing this to have the capacity to love your neighbor.

The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David
The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David Paris Psalter, folio 136v, 10th century | Public Domain

The reproach of Nathan and the penance of King David

The First Commandment:

I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.

In what way have I been raising up some other aspect of my life before God?

Repentance and Contrition
Repentance and Contrition Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar | Public Domain

Repentance and Contrition

The Second Commandment:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

Have I expressed extreme cynicism in my use of language in everyday living? Does my use of language reflect my faith and what I truly believe?

The Seven Works of Mercy
The Seven Works of Mercy Michelangelo Merisi o Amerighi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The Seven Works of Mercy

The Third Commandment:

Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day

Have I kept the Lord's Day holy, by refraining from work of any sort on Sundays, and taken this day to rest and recover from the pressures and strains of daily life during the week?

Have I attened Mass and received the Holy Eucharist, and fortified myself for the challenges in the week ahead?

Confession in a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
Confession in a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Водник | Wikimedia Commons

Confession in a Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

The Fourth Commandment:

Honor your father and your mother.

Have I honored and shown respect to my Mother and Father by assuring that I will not bring any disgrace to the integrity of our family? Have I passed along to others the values my Mother and Father have instilled in me?

His Holiness, Pope Francis
His Holiness, Pope Francis Casa Rosada | Wikimedia Commons

His Holiness, Pope Francis

The Fifth Comandment:

You shall not kill.

Have I shown respect for life in every possible way? Have I taken good care of myself and others in my care in observing good principles of nutrition and refrained from doing things that could compromise my health and others entrusted to my care? Have I acted always in ways that are life-affirming? Have I refrained from having a cynical world view? Have I fortified myself against fears by acting virtuously in all circumstances, and having "a big heart, open to God' and 'finding God in all things?'

The Seven Works of Mercy, 1605, German Historical Museum Berlin
The Seven Works of Mercy, 1605, German Historical Museum Berlin Frans Francken (II) (1581–1642)

The Seven Works of Mercy, 1605, German Historical Museum Berlin

The Sixth Commandment:

You shall not commit adultary

Have I a comprehensive understanding of my responsibilities in this domain?

The Goods and Requirements of Conjugal Love

"Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values."

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Two



Article V.

1643 The Goods and Requirements of Conjugal Love

Entrega de las Laves a San Pedro (Capilla Sixtina)
Entrega de las Laves a San Pedro (Capilla Sixtina) Pietro Perugino

Entrega de las Laves a San Pedro (Capilla Sixtina)

The Seventh Commandment:

You shall not steal

Have I hardened my heart to the needs of others, and failed in my duty to others by concerning myself only with my own circumstances, without regard to my responsibilities to our wider community?

Have I practiced the corporal Works of Mercy:

To feed the hungry?

To give drink to the thirsty?

To clothe the naked?

To shelter the homeless?

To visit the sick?

To visit the imprisoned?

To bury the dead?

La Penitente
La Penitente Pietro Rotari (1707–1762)

La Penitente

The Eighth Commandment:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Have I failed to fulfill my responsibilities to others by speaking straightforwardly, and with respect for the dignity of all persons, in all circumstances? Have I proposed a charitable perspective in evaluating circumstances where others have disappointed me? Have I accepted responsibility when there has been some misunderstanding between myself and others?

Works of Mercy
Works of Mercy Pierre Montallier

Works of Mercy

The Ninth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

Have I judged myself according to what my own abilities and talents are, rather than comparing myself with others? Have I the moral strength to live a life of integrity? Am I avoiding temptation and the occasions where circumstances might entice me to betray the confidence others have in me?

Have I practiced the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy

To instruct the ignorant?
To counsel the doubtful?
To admonish sinners?
To bear wrongs patiently?
To forgive offences willingly?
To comfort the afflicted?
To pray for the living and the dead?

Works of Mercy (1680)
Works of Mercy (1680) Pierre Montallier | Public Domain

Works of Mercy (1680)

The Tenth Commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

Have I a sense of priorities? Do I recognize that I am to care for my immortal Soul, rather than to care for only earthly delights? Do I live in a way that reflects my values so that I am able to set a good example for others?

Have I re-evaluated my priorities lately to be assured that they demonstrate my Christian beliefs in all circumstances?

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