An Examined Life
When Jesus said to wake up and walk as those in the light he was calling you to live a conscious and examined life. He was calling you to know yourself through and through, so that He might be known by you. He is still calling you to this life. He wants you to know how much He loves you, and how He is always with you and directing you in every aspect of your life. But to do this He must also make you aware of how blind and deaf you have become to His presence. He must make you aware of how much you tend to love the things of this world, more than you do Him. He does this not to condemn you, nor to inflict the pain of such knowledge upon you, but rather that you might adjust your ways so that your true desire–to know, to see, to love Him–might be attained.
To assist you with this, and to assist us in walking together in your spiritual life, I offer you these three exercises which lead to a greater awareness of God and of yourself. The first is an examination of your daily life based on the Examination of Conscience of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is a grand method for paying attention to the presence of God in our daily lives, and leads to a greater awareness of God in every moment. The second, is to allow God to speak to you in your sleep. And finally is the preparation for confession. This last exercise, drawn from the St. Augustine Prayerbook, is also one intended to help you grow, and need not be entered into with fear or despair, but with an excitement to know where the powers of Sin and the Devil have been able (often unconsciously) to gain a foothold. It is then that they can be dislodged and replaced by the presence of the Holy Spirit through contrition and absolution. May these exercises be of help to you in knowing and loving your Lord Jesus.
A Daily Review of Awareness
It is useful to spend a few minutes once or twice a day to ponder your walk with the Lord. Often this may take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. If you are to do this review only once-a-day, then take fifteen minutes prior to retiring to bed. If you will do this twice a day, then it is recommended to begin at noon and then also before retiring to bed. This review takes a five step structure. First, thanking the Lord for his presence whether you were heedful or not, and allowing to come awareness the places you missed Him. Second, you ask the Lord to help be more aware. Third, to reiterate your love and desire for the Lord and, fourth, your sorrow for having missed Him. Finally, you make the intention to be more attentive.
Thank you, Lord, that You are always with me, always leading me. Bring now to my mind those places, those persons, and those events so far today where I have heard and seen Your leading, and also those places where I have been blind and deaf to Your presence. (Now, allow to rise to consciousness all God’s specific gifts, all the ways that He has made Himself present to you through people, events and situations.)
(Then being aware of how insensitive to His presence you have been, how blind, how deaf, pray that the Lord will help you to see and hear, with words such as,) Thank you, Lord for having made me aware at the time of some of these gifts of your presence, and help me Lord to be more aware of you in the future.
(As your insensitivity to the one you love is experienced; as you experience how you have missed that for which you earnestly desire–to see and know Jesus–you call out to Him) But I do love you, Lord, and I am sorry that I have missed you when you called to me.
(Finally, make the intention to do better saying) Be with me, Lord, and with your grace, I shall love you better during next half of this day.
Now note as well in the places where you missed the Lord, whom or what did you choose instead. To what or whom did you respond instead of the Lord. This will assist you in beginning to discern and understand your desires and actions. It will help to answer such questions as Whom have I loved? What have I loved? Did I respond to the Lord in all that I did?
Then before retiring pray,
Speak to me, O Lord, in my dreams and help me to remember them in the morning.
As soon as you wake, write down a summary of all dreams, or parts of dreams, you remember.
The Sacrament of Penance (Commonly Called Confession and Absolution)
One of the greater impediments to a healthy spiritual and psychological life is the harboring of unhealthy behaviors and desires, which when harbored long enough can be hidden by denial and repression. The ancient act of confession has been a method by which such denial and repression are overcome, allowing the grace of God to heal the damaged soul. The part of the person approaching this sacrament is to come into awareness of these inner and outer behaviors and desires and then to approach them in an attitude of repentance. True repentance has three elements:
1. CONTRITION or sorrow for sin. This can be obtained only at the foot of the Cross. We may not have an emotion of sorrow, but when we see what our sins have done to Jesus, we shall be sorry.
2. CONFESSION of all known sin. This involves a careful examination of our conscience. We cannot confess our sins until we see exactly how we look to the all-seeing eye of God.
3. SATISFACTION and AMENDMENT OF LIFE. We must intend to lead a new or better life. This intention is shown by our acceptance and performance of the penance imposed by the Priest in confession.
Before self-examination, say this prayer:
O HOLY Spirit, Source of all light, Spirit of wisdom, of understanding and of knowledge, come to my assistance and enable me to make a good confession. Enlighten me, and help me now to know my sins as one day I shall be forced to recognize them before Your judgment-seat. Bring to my mind the evil which I have done and the good which I have neglected. Permit me not to be blinded by self-love. Grant me, moreover, heartfelt sorrow for my transgressions, knowing how deeply they have wounded the loving Heart of my Heavenly Father; and help me to make a good confession that all stain of guilt may be washed away in the Precious Blood of my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Now, think of yourself as God’s child, and of the wickedness of following Satan rather than your loving Father. Do not be in a hurry, and do not vex yourself because you cannot remember everything. Be honest with God and with yourself; this is all God asks of you. Write down briefly what you remember of your sins. Don’t try to depend on your memory. If there is any question you do not understand, let it alone, and go on to the next one.
Do not fret about your sins. emember, you are trying to recall them in order that you may be forgiven, not that you may be condemned, "A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, shalt thou not despise." Once you have completed your self-examination make an appointment with the Priest to make your formal confession.
Pride is putting self in the place of God as the center and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.
Have I been irreverent?
Irreverence. Deliberate neglect of the worship of God every Sunday in his Church, or being content with a perfunctory participation in it. Disregard of other Holy Days or of additional opportunities for giving God honor. Failure to thank God or to express our gratitude adequately. Disrespect for God or holy things by deliberately treating them, in thought, word or deed, in a profane, contemptuous or over-familiar manner. Use of holy things for personal advantage, or the attempt to bribe or placate God by religious practices or promises.
Have I been overly sentimental?
Sentimentality. Being satisfied with pious feelings, emotional displays and beautiful ceremonies without striving to obey God’s will.
Have I been presumptuous?
Presumption. Dependence on self rather than on God, with the consequent neglect of the means of grace—sacraments and prayer. Dispensation of our selves from ordinary duties on the grounds that we are superior persons. Satisfaction or complacency over our spiritual achievements. Refusal to avoid, when possible, immediate occasions of temptation. Preference for our own ideas, customs, schemes or techniques. Foolish optimism. Failure to recognize our job as a divine vocation, or to offer our work to God. Unwillingness to surrender to and abide in Christ, to let him act in and through us. Failure to offer to God regularly in intercession the persons or causes that have, or should enlist our interest and support.
Have I been distrustful?
Distrust. Refusal to recognize God’s wisdom, providence and love. Worry, anxiety, misgivings, scrupulosity, or perfectionism. Attempts to discern or control the future by spiritualism, astrology, fortune telling or the like. Magic or superstition. Over-sensitiveness. Expectation that others will dislike, reject or mistreat us; over-readiness so to interpret their attitude, or quickness to take offense. Unfounded suspicions. Timidity in accepting responsibility, or cowardice in facing difficulty or suffering. Surrender to feelings of depression, gloom, pessimism, discouragement, self-pity, or fear of death, instead of fighting to be brave, cheerful and hopeful.
Have I been disobedient?
Disobedience. Rejection of God’s known will in favor of our own interests or pleasures. Disobedience of the legitimate (and therefore divinely ordained) laws, regulations or authority of the Church, state, husband, parents, teachers, etc.; or slow and reluctant obedience. Failure when in authority to fulfil responsibilities or to consider the best interests of those under us. Refusal to learn God’s nature or will as revealed in Scripture, expounded in instructions or expert advice, or discernible through prayer, meditation or the reading of religious books. Absorption in our own affairs, leaving little time, energy or interest for the things of God. Violation of confidence. Breaking of legitimate promises or contracts. Irresponsibility. Treachery. Unnecessary disappointment of another, or the causing of shame or anxiety to those who love us.
Have I been impenitent?
Impenitence. Refusal to search out and face up to our sins, or to confess and admit them before God. Disregard of our sins or pretense that we are better than we are. Self-justification or discounting our sins as insignificant, natural or inevitable. Self- righteous comparison of ourselves with others. Refusal to accept just punishment or to make due reparation when possible. Deceit or lying to escape the consequences of our sins, or allowing another to suffer the blame for our faults. Overcompensation or attempts at self-reform or self-vengeance, to avoid surrender to God in humble penitence. Shame (hurt pride), sorrow for ourselves because our sins make us less respectable than we like to think we are, or because we fear punishment or injury to our reputation, rather than sorrow for what sin is in the eyes of God. Refusal to admit we were in the wrong or to apologize. Refusal to accept forgiveness from God or others. Doubt that God can forgive our sins, or failure to use the means of getting assurance of his forgiveness when we need it. Unwillingness to forgive ourselves.
Have I been vain?
Vanity. Crediting to ourselves rather than to God our talents, abilities, insights, accomplishments, good works. Refusal to admit indebtedness to others, or adequately to express gratitude for their help. Hypocrisy. Pretense to virtues we do not possess. False humility. Harsh judgments on others for faults we excuse in ourselves. Boasting, exaggeration, drawing attention to our selves by talking too much, by claiming ability, wisdom, experience or influence we do not have, or by eccentric or ostentatious behavior. Undue concern over, or expenditure of time, money or energy on looks, dress, surroundings, etc., in order to impress others; or deliberate slovenliness for the same purpose. Seeking, desiring or relishing flattery or compliments.
Have I been arrogant?
Arrogance. Insisting that others conform to our wishes, recognize our leadership, accept our own estimate of our worth. Being overbearing, argumentative, opinionated, obstinate.
Have I been snobbish?
Snobbery. Pride over race, family, position, personality, education, skill, achievements, or possessions.
Anger is open rebellion against God or our fellow creatures. Its purpose and desire is to eliminate any obstacle to our self-seeking, to retaliate against any threat to our security, to avenge any insult or injury to our person.
Have I been resentful?
Resentment. Refusal to discern, accept or fulfil God’s vocation. Dissatisfaction with the talents, abilities or opportunities he has given us. Unwillingness to face up to difficulties or sacrifices. Unjustified rebellion or complaint at the circumstances of our lives. Escape from reality or the attempt to force our will upon it. Transference to God, to our parents, to society, or to other individuals of the blame for our maladjustment; hatred of God, or antisocial behavior. Cynicism. Annoyance at the contrariness of things; profanity or grumbling.
Have I been pugnacious?
Pugnacity. Attack upon another in anger. Murder in deed or desire. Combativeness or nursing of grudges. Injury to another by striking, cursing or insulting him; or by damaging his reputation or property. Quarrelsomeness, bickering, contradiction, nagging, rudeness, or snubbing.
Have I been retaliatory?
Retaliation. Vengeance for wrongs real or imagined, or the plotting thereof. Harsh or excessive punishment. Hostility, sullenness or rash judgment. Refusal to forgive, or to offer or accept reconciliation. Unwillingness to love, to do good to, or to pray for enemies. Boycotting or ostracizing another for self ish reasons. Spoiling others’ pleasure by uncooperativeness or disdain, because we have not got our way, or because we feel out of sorts or superior.
Envy is dissatisfaction with our place in God’s order of creation, manifested in begrudging his gifts and vocation to others.
Have I been jealous?
Jealousy. Offense at the talents, success or good fortune of others. Selfish or unnecessary rivalry or competition. Pleasure at others’ difficulties or distress. Belittling others.
Have I held malice?
Malice. Ill-will, false accusations, slander, backbiting. Reading false motives into others’ behavior. Initiation, collection or retailing of gossip. Arousing, fostering or organizing antagonism against others. Unnecessary criticism, even when true. Deliberate annoyance of others, teasing or bullying.
Have I held contempt?
Contempt. Scorn of another’s virtue, ability, short comings, or failings. Prejudice against those we consider inferior, or who consider us inferior, or who seem to threaten our security or position. Ridicule of persons, institutions or ideals.
COVETOUSNESS is the refusal to respect the integrity of other creatures, expressed in the inordinate accumulation of material things; in the use of other persons for our personal advantage; or in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.
Do I have inordinate ambition?
Inordinate Ambition. Pursuit of status, power, in fluence, reputation, or possessions at the expense of the moral law, of other obligations, or of the rights of others. Ruthless or unfair competition. Putting our self or our family first. Conformity to standards we recognize as wrong or inadequate in order to get ahead. Intrigue or conspiracy for self-advancement.
Do I seek domination?
Domination. Seeking to use or possess others. Over protection of children; refusal to correct or punish lest we lose their affection; insistence that they conform to our ideal for them contrary to their own vocation. Imposing our will on others by force, guile, whining, or refusal to cooperate. Over-readiness to advise or command; abuse of authority. Patronizing, pauperizing, putting others under a debt of gratitude, or considering ourselves ill-used when others’ affection or compliance is not for sale. Respect of persons, favoritism, partiality, flattery, fawning, or bribery to win support or affection. Refusal to uphold the truth to fulfil duties, to perform good acts, or to defend those wrongfully attacked, because we fear criticism or ridicule, or because we seek to gain the favor or approval of others. Leading, tempting or encouraging another to sin.
Do I have avarice?
Avarice. Inordinate pursuit of wealth or material things. Theft, dishonesty, misrepresentation, or sharing in stolen goods. Cheating in business, taxes, school or games. Making worldly success the goal of our life or the standard for judging others.
Do I exhibit prodigality?
Prodigality. Waste of natural resources or personal possessions. Extravagance or living beyond our income, to impress others or to maintain status. Failure to pay debts. Gambling more than we can afford to lose, or to win unearned profits. Unnecessary borrowing or carelessness with others’ money. Expenditure on self of what is needed for the welfare of others.
Do I exhibit penuriousness?
Penuriousness. Undue protection of wealth or security. Selfish insistence on vested interests or on claimed rights. Refusal to support or help those who have a claim on us. Sponging on others. Stinginess. Failure to give due proportion of our income to Church and charity, or of our time and energy to good works. Failure to pay pledges promised to the Church or charities, when able to do so.
GLUTTONY is the overindulgence of natural appetites for food and drink, and by extension the in ordinate quest for pleasure or comfort.
Do I exhibit intemperance?
Intemperance. Overindulgence in food, drink, smoking, or other physical pleasures. Fastidiousness, fussiness, demanding excessively high standards, or dilettantism. Condemnation of some material things or pleasures as evil in themselves, attempting to prohibit their use rather than their abuse.
Do I exhibit lack of self-discipline?
Lack of Discipline. Negligence in keeping the days of fasting or abstinence, or failure to use other needed means of self-discipline. Neglect of bodily health—not getting sufficient rest, recreation, exercise, or wholesome nourishment. Failure to use or to cooperate with available medical care when ill. Use of sickness as a means of escape from responsibilities.
LUST is the misuse of sex for personal gratification, debasing it from the holy purpose for which God has given it to us.
Have I exhibited unchastity?
Unchastity. Violation of the Church’s marriage laws. Lack of consideration for one’s partner in the use of the marital relationship. Refusal to fulfil the purpose of Holy Matrimony in the bringing forth and giving adequate care to children, or to take our full share in the responsibilities or work involved. Unfaithfulness to one’s spouse. Sexual indulgence outside matrimony, in thought or act, alone or with others.
Have I exhibited immodesty?
Immodesty. Stimulation of sexual desire in others by word, dress or actions; or in oneself by reading, pictures, or fantasies. Collecting or recounting dirty stories.
Have I been prudish?
Prudery. Fear of sex or condemnation of it as evil in itself. Refusal to seek adequate sexual instruction or the attempt to prevent others from obtaining it. Stimulation of excessive and harmful curiosity by undue secrecy. Repression of sex.
Have I been cruel?
Cruelty. Deliberate infliction of pain, mental or physical. Tormenting of animals.
SLOTH is the refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth, service or sacrifice.
Have I been lazy?
Laziness. Indolence in performing spiritual, mental or physical duties, or neglect of family, business or social obligations or courtesies. Procrastination of disliked tasks. Busyness or triviality to avoid more important commitments. Devotion of excessive time to rest, recreation, amusement, television, light reading or the like. Waste of employer’s time, or shoddy or inadequate work.
Have I exhibited indifference?
Indifference. Unconcern over injustice to others, especially that caused by currently accepted social standards; or unmindfulness of the suffering of the world. Failure to become adequately informed on both sides of contemporary issues or on the Christian principles involved. Neglect of duties to state or community. Failure to provide adequately for, or to treat justly those in our employ. Ignoring of needy, lonely or unpopular persons in our own or the parish family, or in the neighborhood; or unwillingness to minister to them. Insufficient attention to the religious and other needs of our family. Failure to fulfil our obligation of Christian missionary witness, or to take a full and in formed part in the effort to make the Church’s unity and holiness a manifest reality on earth.
Prayer After Self-Examination
O my God, how great are my sins! Would that I had never offended thee. If by carelessness or ignorance I have forgotten anything in my self-examination, show it to me now that I may make a good confession. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now note down what you have become aware of and bring it to your next time of confession.