The Examination of Conscience

When I played football in high school there was a practice, a sort of ritual, that the whole team would do together every week during the season- we “reviewed the tapes.” Once a week, usually on a Monday or Tuesday, the whole team would gather together in a classroom while the coach showed us selected tapes of the previous week’s game. We saw the great plays and cheered, we saw the horrible mistakes (and would playfully rib each other for the foul-ups), and we would evaluate our plays. Most importantly, we would learn from our errors and then practice the skills necessary to never make them again. It helped us as a team and as individual players. It helped us to grow in humility in the failures and to celebrate each others’ victories as brothers.

This is what the Examination of Conscience should be for each of us. At the end of the day, while we are beginning to wind down, we can “review the tape” of our day. We see the good plays, the times when we responded well to the grace of God. We bless Him and thank Him, and we can bless and thank our “teammates” who walked through the day with us. It also allows us to grow in humility at the failures, the sins, the exposition of our vices, not so that we can beat ourselves up, but so that we can learn from them and ask God for his merciful, loving forgiveness. (He may even playfully rib us a little too.) It will also allow us to make small, practical adjustments that we can practice and visualize so that, when the situations arise again, we can avoid the same mistakes and be victorious.

Our Guardian Angels are a huge help to us when we make an examination of conscience. They are our teammates, our “wing men” (pun completely intended) that are with us every step of the way. They point things out to us, lift us up when tackled, and give us the support of their friendship and God’s grace. They love the practical and are good at helping us in the smallest little matters of the day. We can ask them for their help in everything and, at the end of the day, we can especially ask them to shed some divine light on our day so that we can see it more clearly. They also remind us how to improve the next day.

Here is a slightly unconventional Examination of Conscience which I find helpful. There are plenty of exams available on the web that list particular sins. This one cuts to the heart of the matter and helps us to go deeper into the sources and roots of sin as well as the graces of the day. I hope it helps you.

•In what areas of my life am I not at peace? 
•Where am I angry, depressed, discouraged, anxious, bitter, resentful? 
•Where am I too focused on myself? 
•What ares of my life, my thoughts, my desires, have I not yet given over to Jesus as Lord? 
•What wouldn’t I want to talk to Jesus about? 
•What would I not want Him to see? 
•In what ways am I not responding to what God wants me to do? 
•How has he transformed my life or been present to me today? 
•What graces were given today? 
•How did I respond well and not so well to those graces to love God, myself and those I encountered today? 

Meditation & Lectio Divina

A great way to pray (and one of the oldest) is called Lectio Divina (or Divine Reading). It is a way of taking the Scriptures and allowing them to live in your heart and mind. Sometimes the Scriptures can seem dull when we hear them proclaimed but when we really read them, pray with them and use our imagination to dig into them, they are never boring and always fruitful. Here’s how to begin. Remember, this is not a formula that you have to follow perfectly, make adjustments as the Holy Spirit prompts you to. 

Pick up the Gospel for the coming Sunday (or any part of the Gospel)


Quiet your mind and heart. Put aside all of the worries and distractions and the noise and emotions of the day. Take some deep breaths and close your eyes for a moment. Rest your body and mind. Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit and ask God to transform your heart and help you to grow and come to know Him better. A good prayer to begin with is: “My Lord and My God, I firmly believe that you are here, that you see me, that you hear me. I adore you with profound reverence. I ask pardon for my sins and the grace to make this time of prayer fruitful. My Immaculate Mother, St. Joseph, my father and lord, my Guardian Angel, intercede for me.” 


Then read the Scriptures slowly and reflectively. Read them and Re-read them again but this time be more selective. Look for scenes, exchanges, words, phrases or actions that attract you and move you. Really dig in, use your intuition and eye for detail. We have to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes, noticing everything that’s happening.  While re-reading take in the details of what’s going on and how people look or are acting in the scene and commit them to memory. 


Meditate on the Scriptures now. Every word of Sacred Scripture contains a thousand secrets. Think through the small portion you selected and uncover its secrets. What is God saying to YOU in this moment. Speak to Him. 
Use your mind to think about points in the passage to understand Our Lord better. (What did he mean when he said that?) 


Use your imagination and senses to make the scene come alive. Be like the actor delving into the scene, into the role.  If you were there what would you touch, smell, see, taste? What would your reactions be in that moment? What are your motivations? You can also be like the movie director here- create the scene- every little detail.
Now, bring your emotions into it. Be a participant in the event. Become part of the action with Our Lord and those that are present there. What are they saying? What are they doing? What are you saying and doing? How do you react? 


Now Pray: what is happening in your heart? How does this affect you? Adore Him, praise and thank Him. Ask him for forgiveness there and then. Take off the mask you wear. Be vulnerable to Him at that moment. Be your true self before Him. Ask Him to tear down the walls you have around your heart that keeps you from really knowing Him and knowing yourself.  Talk to him, tell him everything on your mind there and then, everything. 
Make a resolution of something you are going to do to live holiness, to live as his friend, in your everyday life that day. 


Now Contemplate: Spend a few moments in quiet with Jesus. Just BE with him. Don’t talk- Listen (this is the most important part). Just be there with him as you are with your good friend and love Him back. Friends don’t need to blather on all the time, they can simply revel in the presence of the other. 


Finish your time of prayer with an Our Father and thank God. Tell him now- Thy Will Be Done. And mean it. A good prayer to say is: “I thank you Lord for the good resolutions, inspirations and affections you have communicated to me during this time of prayer. I ask your help in putting them into effect. My Immaculate Mother, St. Joseph, my father and lord, my Guardian Angel, intercede for me.”

 

A Plan of Life

Shortly after the storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Private Harold Baumgarten, 29th Infantry Division, 116th Infantry Regiment, B Company, testified to the struggles and turmoil of that fateful day. "As we approached the beach, the bullets started hitting our LCA. The Company B boat on our left was hit by a shell and blew up. The splintered wood, metal, and body parts were raining down on us from about fifteen feet above. Our young British sailor wanted to drop the front ramp in the twenty-foot-deep water and motor away. Lieutenant Donaldson pulled out his Army Colt 45, pointed it at the frightened seaman, and bellowed, 'Take us all the way in!’ The sailor's fear was well founded. He saw the boat explode on our left, heard all the explosions and gunfire around us and saw the teller mines attached to the wooden pilings in front of us. Finally, the boat stopped, and the front ramp went down in neck deep water.”

Most of us can only imagine what a moment like this would be like. We see movies, read stories and, yearly, we honor those who threw themselves into the fray. But, what led to the success of the D-Day invasion, and in fact, every successful invasion like it? There was a plan. Strategists and generals, tacticians and  logisticians will gather together and plan the attack. They think of all of the possibilities. They pour over their own and the enemy’s capabilities. In the end, they come up with a plan. Sometimes the plan seems implausible; sometimes it seems almost impossible. People might even look it over and then stare at them as though they had potentially lost their mind. “Are you crazy? It’ll never work.”  

Well, we are in a battle in our everyday life. The stakes are high. There’s an enemy. We have our capabilities, our resources, and he has his too. Sometimes we’re aware of our weaknesses. Sometimes we can be a little foolhardy. But in the midst of the battles, we need a plan, a strategy that will get us to heaven. With it, we win; without it, we might not. Why leave it to chance? 

So, here’s a Daily Plan of Life, a strategy for victory. If we live it, we will begin to see victories, it will grow and improve and we will develop the “spiritual habits” to be saints. 

Daily Plan of Life: 

  1. Wake up immediately with your alarm. This is called the “Heroic Minute” because it begins the day with a small act of heroism, of self-mastery. 
  2. Make a morning offering. It can be simple, something we say from the heart that gives our day to God and asks for his graces. 
  3. Spend 15 minutes a day (at the start) meditating on the Gospel. It is good to choose the Gospel of the Mass for that day (you can find it easily on http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021314.cfm or many apps for smart phones). Some might say that they have no time to do this. Here’s a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva that rings in my ear every time that temptation hits me. “You haven’t been praying? Why, because you haven’t had time? But you do have time. Furthermore, what sort of works will you be able to do if you have not meditated on them in the presence of the Lord, so as to put them in order? Without that conversation with God, how can you finish your daily work with perfection? Look, it is as if you claimed you had no time to study because you were too busy giving lessons. Without study you cannot teach well. Prayer has to come before everything. If you do not understand this and put it into practice, don’t tell me that you have no time: it’s simply that you do not want to pray” (Furrow #448)
  4. Say the Rosary. This might seem tedious but I can promise you, there are few weapons in the daily battle as powerful as this. Think of it- you are mediating on the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of the one who knew him best, His Blessed Mother. Think of the Rosary like a soundtrack to epic scenes. The words lift us up to a moment of encounter with Jesus. The words lead us to The Word made Flesh. This mystery had cosmic repercussions on the world and will do the same in our soul. 
  5. Go to Daily Mass if you can. Sometimes it will be hard, but it is SO worth it. If it’s not possible, then make a spiritual communion of some sort, telling Our Lord that you want to be with Him and receive him spiritually that day. 
  6. Do some Spiritual Reading. Most of us have a commute and can read or listen to an audiobook. This is a great way to grow in our knowledge of the Faith and the spiritual life.
  7. Examine your conscience at night. It is the way we review the battle field of the day. We think of what we did well (how we responded to the graces given that day). We think of what we did not do well (the sins we committed or weaknesses shown). And we make a practical resolution of how we can live the plan and our life better tomorrow. 
  8. Make an Act of Contrition and go to bed at a reasonable hour. 

Follow the plan. It will transform your life and more and more battles will be won. Some might say (and we might even say it ourselves) “Are you crazy? It’ll never work.” But it will. The plan is our way of being like Lieutenant Donaldson, screaming out as the bullets flew past his head and fear filled the air, “Take us all the way in!” 

Warriors for the Working Day

On Friday, the 25th of October, 1415, on the rainy mud soaked field of Agincourt, France, King Henry V of England engaged the French in battle. The odds seemed impossible for the 5,000 cold, tired and beaten English troops as they faced the 22,000  of the French army. On that dreary field, where men would clash in mighty battle, King Henry gave a speech to his men that would later be immortalized by William Shakespeare. This inspirational speech (which is arguably the ultimate pre-battle speech upon which all other great speeches of it’s kind are based) rallied the soldiers towards a victory against all the odds. 

As the “gentle herald” of the French Constable requests Henry lay down his arms and vie for peace, the King responds with powerful intent, 

We are but warriors for the working-day;

Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch'd

With rainy marching in the painful field;

There's not a piece of feather in our host--

Good argument, I hope, we will not fly--

And time hath worn us into slovenry:

But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim;

This is what we, who are trudging through the daily battle of life must be like. Time hath indeed “worn us into slovenry” but we continue on, we win the battle, we continue our march, we become saints. Each of us is called to be a saint in the middle of our ordinary lives, transforming the world for Christ. There is much against us and, to the common bystander, the odds seem against our success. Many complain, thee say it is impossible, they complain about the culture or the odds. And yet, we continue on, “warriors for the working day.” This blog is dedicated to the practical measures that will help us to succeed in the fight. Henry won the battle because of a simple invention, the long bow. Prayer is our long bow and with it, we will be victorious.