It will soon be January, and at the beginning of a new year, we often think of making some “new year resolutions.” What do I want to accomplish this year? How do I want to change? What could I do better?
Recently my reunion group friend and I have been discussing the examination of conscience (for more information see Examination of Conscience). We both agree that our biggest problem is not doing sinful things, but doing good things with a poor attitude. We can do our Christian duty while grumbling, becoming impatient or feeling aggrieved. I’ve been praying to improve, and this quote from my daily devotional describes well the way I hope to behave with the help of the Holy Spirit.
“That is what our sacrifice of ourselves should be –‘full of life.’ Not desponding, morbid, morose; not gloomy, chilly, forbidding; not languid, indolent, inactive; but full of life, and warmth, and energy; cheerful and making others cheerful; gay, and making others gay; happy and making others happy; contented and making others contented; doing good and making others do good, by our lively vivid vitality,–filling every corner of the circle in which we move, with the fresh life-blood of a warm, genial, kindly Christian heart. Doubtless this requires a sacrifice; it requires us to give up our own comfort, our own ease, our own firesides, our dear solitude, or own favorite absorbing pursuits, our shyness, our reserve, our pride, our selfishness.”
Arthur P. Stanley
Lent is a time for self-examination. Here are some more good questions to ask yourself from Gustave Francois Xavier Delacroix de Ravignan (1795-1858), a French Catholic priest and author.
Whither goest thou?
Where is thy soul?
Is it in peace?
If it is troubled, why?
How art thou fulfilling the duties of thy position?
What are they?
What effort hast thou made to amend thy disposition, and conquer thy sins?
Hast thou been faithful to the light God has given thee?
What means shouldst thou use, especially with regard to thy most besetting sin or temptation?
Hast thou fought against it?
Hast thou thought about it at all?
What hast thou done with the circumstances of the last month?
Have they wrought God’s work in thee?
For more on examining yourself, see these posts:
Examination of Conscience
What’s Your Excuse?
In my last post, I discussed how I have been examining myself, and finding that I don’t just sin “accidentally” but deliberately . Now I’m looking at some of the ways I excuse my sins.
SINS OF COMMISSION
- Everybody does it
- It’s really not so bad
- It’s just how I am
- It’s impossible to avoid
- I was provoked
SINS OF OMISSION
- I’m too busy
- I got tired
- I can’t do everything
- It’s not my gift, someone else can do it better
- It’s somebody else’s responsibility
- It makes me uncomfortable
- I’m too old (this one might go with too tired!)
Okay, I know there is validity in some of our excuses. We can’t do everything, and we certainly should concentrate on those thing we can do best. We will all have a tendency to certain sins because of our own personality/upbringing/experiences. However, we need to ask ourselves, are we doing something? Are we trying to lean away from our sinful tendencies, or do we just accept them? Are we avoiding situations that cause us to sin? Are we taking some initiative in the process of sanctification, or are we just drifting along?
The apostle Paul put it well:
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13″
No, this doesn’t mean that we save ourselves through our works, but it does mean that we have a responsibility to work with God to grow mature in our faith. So I would like to challenge our readers: Examine yourself — make your own list of excuses–then make a realistic plan to do better. Don’t try to improve in every area at once, just pick one. If you’re like me, you’ll have plenty of choices. NO MORE EXCUSES!
For more on examining your conscience, see these posts:
Examination of Conscience
False Piety #2
In a previous post, I talked about the need for each of us to examine ourselves on some regular basis as a practice of piety. This is not meant as a way to “earn points” with God — it is to help us see and acknowledge areas of weakness and sin so that we can mature as Christians. This Examination of Conscience is from the Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide, which is given to each participant. Imagine it as a conversation between you and Jesus.
Think about your interior attitudes and disposition. Have your thoughts, your aspirations, your words, your actions of this day been worthy of one of my apostles?
Have your problems overcome you again today? How many times have you fallen? What was the reason? Think it over well.
Think about the means available to you that my grace my increase in you:
Morning worship, Holy Communion, altar visits. Have you neglected to perform one or more of these means of sanctification? Why?
How long has it been since you visited your spiritual director? When will you go?
And what about your serving? Couldn’t you have been more generous– more courageous– more self-sacrificing–more cheerful?
With a little effort couldn’t you have gotten rid of the obstacles which you found along the road?
Haven’t you had the time to be a disciple? Listen to Me: isn’t it true that for the things which really interest you, you do find the time? I wo am your God would almost be satisfied if you would treat me as well as you treat any of your friends.
Are you with me– or against me? At work–in your profession–at recreation–have you been my disciple? Would you have been proud to have me accompany you through the day?
Remember that the infidelities of the “faithful’ are the infidelities which wound My heart most. I COUNT ON YOU! ON YOU! And you, on whom or what do you count?
After a Via de Cristo retreat, participants are encouraged to periodically examine their conscience. This means to think carefully over their recent words, thoughts and deeds in order to understand how they have failed and confess. Some suggestions for doing this are provided in the VDC Pilgrim’s Guide. I’m listing here just the questions pertaining to our relationships.
In Regard to Others have I:
- Loved others selfishly; wanted to monopolize other’s affections, been jealous
- Considered no one but myself. Never felt real anguish for the misery of others
- Passed by, indifferent to others’ troubles
- Had habitual contempt for others; less educated people, people of different racial, national or economic groups
- In any way stifled the personal development of another
- Sought to be respected without respecting others
- Often kept others waiting
- Not paid entire attention to a person speaking to me
- Talked too much of myself, and not given others a chance to express themselves
- Failed to try to understand others
- Out of selfishness or pride, expected to be served
- Failed to help a person in distress
- Seen only those whose friendship might prove profitable
- Abandoned my friends in their difficulties
- Said hurtful things
- Done harm, by remarks (false or true) that blacken another’s character
- Betrayed a trust; violated a confidence
- Given scandal by the split between the life I lead and the principles I advertise as mine
How do you feel after reading through this list? I am humbled and contrite. I fall down so much more than I want to admit, many times I sin against others and don’t even notice!
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25
When you attend a Via De Cristo retreat weekend, you receive a little book called the Pilgrim’s Guide in Christianity which includes a variety and prayers and “helps” for your devotional life. One of those “helps” is called Examination of Conscience. In case you’re wondering what that is, here’s a definition:
Examination of conscience is a review of one’s past thoughts, words, actions, and omissions for the purpose of ascertaining their conformity with, or deviation from, the moral law.
Recently going over it, I realized that one of the categories listed has to do with the church, so I thought I would share it on the blog this month. The idea is to think about whether you have done, or neglected to do these things in regard to the church:
Have I, By Thought
- Thought of the church as a sect or party rather than as the mystical body of Christ
- Neglected to read or reflect on the Holy Scriptures
- Not held myself responsible for my part in the in adequacy of Christians
Have I, By Words
- Spoken of the clergy as “them” instead of “us”
- Criticized irresponsibly the leadership of the church, both clerical and lay
- Ignored the teaching authority of the church, replacing it with my own authority
Have I, By Acts
- Used church organizations to justify my own personal hang-ups
- Run away from trying to solve the church’s internal problems
- Acted to support the church only when it met my approval
Have I, By Omission
- Not tried to make the church more vital
- Failed to contribute sacrificially for the material needs of the church
- Neglected to pray for those in authority
This list isn’t even exhaustive, but it helps me realize that my support and appreciation of the church isn’t all it could be. It’s a good reminder to help me strive to be a better member of Christ’s body. Do you find this exercise helpful or not? Please let us know.