Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A New Examination of Conscience for Lent

As one who is generally skeptical of new things, I sympathize with any reader who might be wondering just what might be meant by a "new examination of conscience." Aren't the old ones just fine? Well, yes, they are fine. But, speaking personally (and perhaps due to my own faults), I have sometimes been dissatisfied with standard examinations of conscience when preparing for confession. This could be a result of an almost exclusive reliance on a Ten Commandments-based approach. It can help to have a fresh perspective on one's sins by taking a different angle.

When I first read the Oblate statutes of the Benedictine monastery of Pluscarden (which later became the basis for the Oblate statutes of the monastery of Norcia), I was struck by the advice that we could profitably take Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule and examine our lives based on it. My pondering of this chapter led me to the (hopefully not too audacious) step of organizing its material into a little pamphlet, as an examination of conscience that might be useful in preparing for Confession. I've attached this below.

Why would the Holy Rule of St. Benedict work well for all of us? St. Benedict himself says that he is preparing "a little rule for beginners," and the ages have proved that this rule of life is a school of holiness for all who incline the ear of the heart to its wisdom. Although some of its chapters don't immediately apply to everyday life as a layman, the Holy Rule is abundantly filled with mature spiritual counsel that readily lends itself to the Christian's battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil -- a duty we must always keep in mind, especially in the holy season of Lent when the Church puts it before us quite starkly.

As Bossuet said (and as Pope Benedict XVI would surely agree): "Cette règle, c’est un précis du christianisme, un docte et mystérieux abrégé de toute la doctrine de l’Évangile, de toutes les institutions des saints Pères, de tous les conseils de perfection": This rule is a synopsis of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgment of the whole doctrine of the Gospel, all the institutions of the holy fathers, and all the counsels of perfection.

UPDATE: Since this has proved so popular, I am simply going to paste the text in below, and you can reformat it as you wish.

An Examination of Conscience based on Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule of St. Benedict

Have I neglected to love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength, and my neighbor as myself? If so, in what specific ways?
In deed or in thought, have I killed, committed adultery, stolen, coveted, or borne false witness?
Have I failed to honor all men?
Did I do to another what I would not have had done to me?
Did I prefer anything to the love of Christ?

Have I been self-indulgent instead of denying myself in order to follow Christ?
Have I pampered my body or sought after delicate living, rather than chastising my body?
Have I neglected fasting or abstinence?
Have I overindulged in wine or other beverages, or verged on gluttony?
Have I been drowsy or slothful?
Did I immerse myself in worldly affairs rather than keeping aloof from them?
Did I fulfill the desires of the flesh rather than hating my own will?
Have I sinned against chastity, modesty, or purity?

Charity towards Neighbor
Have I neglected, when it was possible, to relieve the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, bury the dead, help in affliction, or console the sorrowing?
Have I gratifed anger or harbored a desire of revenge?
Have I fostered guile in my heart or made a feigned peace?
Have I failed to utter truth from heart and mouth?
Have I rendered evil for evil or done wrong to anyone?
Did I feel or exhibit impatience when wronged?
Have I hated my enemies or any man?
Did I neglect to pray for my enemies in the love of Christ?
Have I avoided making peace with any adversary before the setting of the sun?
Have I fled persecution for justice’s sake?
Have I rendered cursing for cursing, rather than a blessing?
Have I been guilty of murmuring or detraction?
Have I indulged in excessive talk, vain words, or unfitting laughter?
Have I uttered evil and wicked words?
Have I been jealous or given way to envy?
Have I loved strife?
Did I give in to vanity?
Have I been proud?
Did I fail to reverence my elders in Christ?
Did I fail to love those who are my brothers, juniors, dependents, or pupils?
Have I, in any other way, forsaken charity?

Seeking First God’s Kingdom
Have I been lax in fulfilling each day the commandments of God?
Did I neglect in my prayer the daily confessing of past sins?
Have I faltered in putting my hope in God?
Have I subtly or openly attributed the good that I see in myself to myself rather than to God?
Have I run away from acknowledging the evil I have done, or tried to blame it on someone else?
Have I delayed taking the steps necessary to amend my sins, negligences, and failings?
Have I been remiss in smashing my evil thoughts on the rock of Christ the instant they came into my heart?
Have I been lax in applying myself to frequent prayer or lectio divina?
Did I fail to keep death daily before my eyes, with fear of the Day of Judgment and dread of hell?
Have I not been desiring everlasting life with all spiritual longing?
Have I failed to keep guard over the actions of my life by bearing in mind that God sees me everywhere?
Have I not sought the counsel of my spiritual father when I should have done so?
Have I hidden evil thoughts from him?
Have I shown poor obedience to the commands of those who are placed in authority over me?
Did I seek a reputation for holiness rather than holiness itself?
Have I ever despaired of God’s mercy?

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