Of Two Important Pieces of Advice How to Hit Upon and Choose the Right Subject for Particular Examination of Conscience

by admin on August 9, 2010

COMING down more to particulars, two principal things are to be noted here. The first is that, when there are exterior faults that offend and disedify our brethren, that is the first thing that we should try to abolish by means of the particular examination of conscience, even though there be other inte­rior things of more importance. Thus, if one has a fault in conversation, either by talking too much, or speaking impatiently and angrily, or uttering words of detraction that may give one man a bad opinion of another, or the like, reason and charity require that we should first get rid of these faults that are apt to offend and disedify our breth­ren and contrive to live and converse with them in such manner as to give no one cause of complaint against us. So the holy Gospel says of the parents of the glorious Bap­tist : They were both just before God, living in the observ­ance of all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord without blame (Luke i. 6). They were just before God and lived blamelessly before men. This is great praise of a servant of God, and one of the things that a religious liv­ing in community should endeavor to make sure of. It is not enough to be just before God, but you must try to make sure that your way of going on in religion be such that none may have any ground of complaint against you. With­out blame; so that none may have to say of you: “A very good fellow but for so-and-so.” So, if there is anything that may give offense, it is there that the particular examen should start.

But in the second place it is to be observed that we must not go our whole life making particular examen on these exterior things, for they are easier and more in our power than the interior. St. Augustine says very well: “I com­mand my hand, and it obeys me: I command my foot, and it obeys me; but I command my appetite, and it obeys me not.” It is clear that hand and foot are more obedient than appetite, since they have no proper motion of their own to the contrary such as appetite has. So we must endeavor to get clear of these exterior things as soon as we can, and have done with them, that we may have time over for other and greater things, as to gain some main virtue or some higher perfection—a most profound humility of heart, not only to the extent of thinking meanly of one­self, but going so far as to rejoice that others think meanly of one and hold one of small account; doing things purely for God, so far as to come to say what that holy cook said: “I never think that I am serving men, but serving God” (Treatise III, Chapter 9); a great conformity to the will of God in all, and so of the rest. For, though it is true that the particular examen is properly and directly for the get­ting rid of faults and imperfections—and there is always in us store enough of matter for that, since so long as life lasts we cannot be without faults and venial sins—yet we must not go all our life at that. The time is very well spent that is taken up in weeding the flower garden, yet it must not be all spent in clearing the soil of noxious and evil growths, but rather the purpose of this clearance is to plant good flowers. So the time is very well spent that is taken up during examens in rooting up the vicious and evil inclinations of our soul, but the purpose of all that is to plant therein good and fragrant flowers of virtues. Behold, I have set thee up today to root up and destroy, to plough over and eradicate, and to build and plant, said God to Jeremy (Jer. i. 16). The first thing must be to break up and root out, but after that to build and plant.

Especially, since even for getting rid of these same faults and imperfections it is sometimes well to make the particu­lar examination of conscience on some higher virtue or perfection; this is often a more effectual means thereto, as well as a shorter and more pleasant. Have you the fault of speaking to your brethren in an offhand manner and too freely? Make your examen on taking all to be your betters and yourself for the least of all. That will tell you how you should address them and how you should reply to them; you may rest quite assured that you will not speak to them any rough or bit­ing word if you attain to this humility. In the same way, do you feel repugnance and difficulty in trying circumstances that occur ? Make your examen on taking all things that happen as coming from the hand of God and by a particular arrangement and providence of His, and that He sends them to you for your greater good and profit; and in this way you will do well under them. Do you fail in mod­esty, lightly rolling your eyes about and turning your head from one side to another, or being curious in wanting to know the news and inquiring into everything that passes? Make your examen on walking in the presence of God and doing all things in such sort as they may appear to His august countenance, and you will soon find yourself mod­est, recollected, and spiritual; and that without any fatigue or seeming to lay much stress on the point. Otherwise look how, when you come out from a devout prayer, you have no mind to talk or look about you, because dealing and con­versing with God makes you forget all that sort of thing. But if you wish to take and remedy all these exterior faults one after another, besides its being a very long and round­about way, you will find that, when you want to make examen, say, on modesty of the eyes, you will not be able to make it and your head will ache in trying to put such restraint on yourself. So a doctor finds fault with those spiritual directors who spend all their energies in warning you against those exterior faults; he says that the chief care of a good master and pastor of souls should be to reform the heart and make his disciple enter into himself, as Holy Scripture says of Moses: He led his flock into the interior of the desert (Exod, iii. 1). Busy yourself in reforming the heart, and everything else will soon be reformed.

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