The Rite for the Sacrament of Reconciliation encourages the use of God’s Word, found in Holy Scripture and in Church Tradition, for the examination of one’s conscience.
Just as a diagnosis of a sick person requires many forms of examination (e.g., blood tests, pulse, blood pressure, EEG, X-rays, EKG, urine analysis, CAT scan, etc.), so a thorough examination of conscience should consider the many dimensions of one’s spiritual life in the light of God’s revealed Word. Our need for diverse formats for a fruitful examination of conscience can be seen in a simple exercise. Count the number of times "F" is found in the following sentence: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH FOLLOWED BY MONTHS OF CAREFUL ANALYSIS OF THE FACTUAL DATA COLLECTED FROM IT.
The correct answer is at the bottom of this page in italics. If you did not get the correct answer, you are not alone. Most people do not do so on the first try. Although we all know what an "F" looks like, our eyes can often overlook the obvious. And just as our eyes can deceive us, so also a spirituality that is formed by only one dimension of the Church’s teaching can easily lead one away from fruitful humble and docile discernment of the whole truth of God into a bitter frustration.
One’s regular and balanced examination of conscience, then, is an important discipline in the spiritual life and a prelude to the Last Judgment, so that one can become more gratefully receptive to the forgiveness, healing and strength offered by God – especially as it is ministered to one through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Dangers of unbalanced examination of conscience:
- Using only one’s emotional feelings of guilt in evaluating how one has sinned (emotions merely indicate to us how we are responding to a situation, rather than what is the truth regarding that situation);
- Frustration in the spiritual life, since we are approaching a problem from the wrong angle (e.g., one can knock down a stack of bricks by hitting it with a thousand pounds of force from the top, but it is easier to do so by hitting it with ten pounds of force from the side);
- Overlooking sins and faults that are camouflaged by our culture (e.g., calumny disguised as “news”, abuse disguised as “discipline”, addiction disguised as “fulfillment”) or hidden by subtle forms of despair, which tell us that a particular sin “is not all that bad” or beyond the remedy of God’s grace;
- Using will power, rather than the discipline of a deepening grateful receptivity to one’s share in the awkward mystery of the Cross of Christ, as the basis for one’s growth in the spiritual life (Thus building up spiritual pride and resentment toward those who do not measure up to our expectations);
- Forsaking God’s Word and His Word-made-flesh for the sake of “Gospel principles”, which is analogous to identifying a red hot metal rod with fire. For a short period of time, the hot metal can cause a fire, but the metal itself is not fire. One’s appreciation of the truth of the Gospel is always limited, thus regular recourse to Christ and His teachings must always be seen as the standard of spiritual integrity.God’s Word (Holy Scripture and Church Tradition) is living and effective (Heb 4:12-13). If we allow it, it can both reveal our sins and infuse new wisdom, conviction and strength into our hearts. It provides us with the preeminent way, in which to discern the truth of our spiritual condition. And it provides us with a sure means to know and conform to God’s Holy Will, so that we can do the right thing in the right way with the right attitude and in right relationship with the whole Christ, Head and Body.
Scriptural Examinations of Conscience: Matt 5:3-7:27; Exod 20:1-17; Wis 7:23-30; Gal 5:19-26; I Cor 13:1-13; II Cor 6:1-10; Eph 4:1-6; Eph 4:25-5:20; Phil 2:1-11; Col 3:5-17; I Thes 5:12-22; II Tim 2:14-3:9; Heb 13:1-19. (Answer to question in paragraph one – ELEVEN)