It Is a Very Helpful That One Does Penance in Association with The Particular Examination of Conscience

by admin on August 26, 2010

Our Father St. Ignatius was not satisfied with sorrow and repent­ance and inward purposes, but we read in his Life that, for the better composing of the end desired, he recom­mended the addition of some penance to the particular examination of conscience, marking out for ourselves a certain penalty to exact of ourselves every time we fall into the fault which is the matter of our particular examen. Fra Louis of Gran­ada gives instances of some servants of God whom he knew, one of whom, when he found at his night examen that he had exceeded in some ill-spoken word, would bite his tongue in penance for the same; and another would take a disci­pline for this and any other defect he fell into.

It is said of the holy Abbot Agatho that for three years he carried a pebble in his mouth to gain the virtue of silence. As we here wear a haircloth to mortify the flesh and to serve us as a caller to chastity, so this saint carried a pebble below his tongue that it might be, as it were, his haircloth and serve him as a reminder and caller not to speak more than necessary. And of our blessed Father Ignatius, we read that at the beginning of his conversion he was much tempted to laughter and that he overcame the temptation by free use of the discipline, giving himself as many strokes each night as there were times that he had laughed during the day, however slight the laugh had been. And it is usually a great help, this adding of some penance to the examen, for with the penance the soul feels chastened and afraid to commit that fault another time. The spur makes the beast go, however lazy it be. Such an aid is the spur that no sooner does the creature feel that there is one there, though it does not prick it, than it makes it go. If every time that a man broke silence he had to take a pub­lic discipline or dine on bread and water for three days, which was the penance of old, marked in the Rules for those who broke silence, of a surety it would greatly restrain us from talking. Besides this, and the merit and satisfaction there is in it, there is another very great advantage, which is that God our Lord, seeing the penance wherewith a man chastises and afflicts himself, is wont to hear his petition and desire. And this is one of the effects of penance and exterior mortification that the saints set down, and our holy Father sets it down in the Book of the Exercises. The angel said to Daniel: From the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, and to afflict thyself in the sight of thy God, thy prayer was heard (Dan. x. 12). The Prophet Daniel added to his prayer fasting and mortification of the flesh, and so obtained the deliverance of his people and moved God to reveal to him great mysteries and do him other very particular favors. And we see that in the Church of God this means has always been very commonly used to obtain and gain the favor of God in distresses and necessities.

When an infant asks of its mother the breast that it needs, and asks it only by expressing its desire by signs, the mother often refuses or puts it off; but when it asks by weeping and wailing, the mother cannot refrain from giving it at once. So when a man asks of God the virtue of humil­ity, of patience, of chastity, or the victory over some temp­tation, or any like thing, and asks only by desire and word, oftentimes he does not gain what he asks, or is long put off; but when to prayer we join penance and mortification of the flesh and afflict ourselves before God, then we gain our petition much better, with greater certainty, and in shorter time. God has a great love of men and, seeing them putting themselves to pain and affliction to gain what they ask, He is moved to compassion and uses greater mercy with them. We read in Holy Writ that the patriarch Joseph could not contain himself when he saw the affliction and tears of his brethren, but discovered himself to them and made them partakers of all his goods: Joseph could no longer contain himself, and said to his brethren, I am Joseph (Gen. xlv. 3). What will not He do, Who loves us more than Joseph and is our Brother, when He sees our affliction and grief? In every way this means will avail us much.

This agrees very well with what Cassian says, treating of the care and diligence with which we should proceed in the warfare and particular examen, If the struggle and particular examen ought to be, as we have said, on that point of which we have most need; if it ought to serve to uproot that passion or inclination which reigns more in us than others, which more particularly upsets us and puts us in greater dangers and makes us fall into most faults; if it be to overcome that vice, the overcoming of which will carry victory over all the rest, and the gaining of that vir­tue with which we shall have gained all other virtues, with how much solicitude and diligence will it be reasonable for us to act in a matter of so much importance to us! Do you know with how much ? Cassian tells us: “Against this pre­dominant passion let him employ his man’s force, devoting all his care and solicitude to attacking and watching it; against it let him direct the daily arrows of his fasts; against it let him heave every moment the sighs of his heart and hurl the darts of his groans; against it be the labors of his watchings and the meditation of his heart; against it let him ceaselessly pour out before God the wailings of his prayers, begging Him especially and continually to put an end to the assaults of that vice.”

We must not rest content with taking this care about our examen alone, but also about our meditation; and that not only in the time set aside for meditation, but frequently in the day we must raise our heart to God with ejaculatory prayers and sighs and groans of the heart: “Lord, humility; Lord, chastity; Lord, patience.” For this we should often visit the Blessed Sacrament, asking with much earnestness of the Lord to give us grace to gain a thing so important to us; we must have recourse to our Lady and the saints to be our intercessors. To this end we must direct our fasts, haircloths, disciplines, and subjoin certain devotions and offer certain particular mortifications. If in this man­ner and with this care and diligence we went to work with our particular examen, we should quickly feel the better for it because the Lord would see our affliction and hear our prayer and fulfil the desire of our heart. And all this must be well observed to aid us also therewith in other tempta­tions and grave needs that occur. St. Bonaventure says that our Lady told St. Elizabeth of Hungary that no spir­itual grace-comes to the soul, regularly speaking, otherwise than by prayer and afflictions of the body.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

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