How to do a Particular Examination of Conscience

by admin on August 21, 2010

THE second principal topic that we proposed to treat was how to make this examination of conscience. The particular examen  embraces three times and an examination of oneself twice repeated. The first time is in the early morning at rising; everyone should then form a resolution to be on his guard against this or that particular vice or defect of which he wishes to correct and amend himself. The second time is at midday, at which the first examination should be made, which contains three points. The first is to ask grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to remember how many times I have fallen into this defect on which I am making my particular examination; the second, to take account of my soul touching this defect or vice, going over my conduct from the hour at which I arose and made my resolution to the present hour, and see how many times I have fallen therein, and make as many dots on a line of a little book, kept for that purpose, as shall answer to the number of times I find I have fallen; the third is to be sorry for having fallen, asking God’s pardon for the same and purposing not to fall that afternoon into that fault, with the grace of God. The third time is at night before going to rest; then the examen must be made a sec­ond time, neither more nor less than at midday, by these three points, going through the time from the last examen until the present moment and making on the second line as many dots as shall answer to the number of times I find I have fallen. And to extirpate more easily and more readily this defect or vice on which we are making the examen, our Father puts three notices, which he calls “additions”: the first, that every time the man falls into this particular vice or defect, he should repent, putting his hand to his breast, which can be done even in the presence of others without their noticing what is done; the second, that at night time, after having made the examen, he should compare the afternoon’s dots with those of the morning, to see whether there is any improvement; the third and fourth, that he should also compare today with yesterday and this week with last week in reference to the same defect.

All this teaching is drawn from the saints. St. Anthony advised the writing down of the faults discovered by the examen, for the doer’s greater shame and as an admonition to him to labor at their amendment. St. John Climacus would have us, not only at night and examen time, but at all hours, to note down immediately upon committing it any fault into which we fall, that thus the examen may be better made, as the good man of business and the good steward puts down in his day book at once anything that he sells or buys so that nothing may be forgotten and that he may be better able to make up his account at night. St. Basil and St. Bernard expressly lay down the counsel to compare one day with another, in order to get a better idea of one’s advancement or falling back, and diligently to aim at growing better every day and more like the holy angels. St. Dorotheus advises us to compare week with week and month with month.

The method that our Father lays down of taking the amendment of a fault time by time and little by little, half a day at a time and no more, is a method set down by St. Chrysostom, St. Ephrem, and St. Bernard, as most effica­cious for the uprooting of any vice or fault. Even in the heathen world, Plutarch also prescribes it and gives the example of a man of a very choleric temperament, who had great difficulty in keeping his temper and took for his task not to get angry for one day; so he spent one day without getting angry, and another day he said: “Well, I don’t mean to get angry today, either, not today at least.” He did the same another day and another, until he came to make himself of a very sweet and agreeable disposition. Well, this is the way our Father instructs us in the particu­lar examen, to make the effort easier for us. Dealing with an invalid who has lost his appetite, they give him his din­ner little by little, that he may be able to eat it. If you put a whole chicken before him, he would think it impos­sible to have to eat all that and could not eat a mouthful; but cut off a little bit and give it him, and keep the rest there, hidden between two plates; in this way, little by lit­tle, morsel by morsel, you make him eat all that he needs. Our Father wishes in this way to help us with the particu­lar examen, as they do with infirm and weakly people, little by little, half a day and half a day at a time, that we may be able to get on. If we took it all together—”All the year long I am not to talk;” “All my life I am to walk with my eyes cast down, under such control and with such modesty”- the mere thought, perchance, would weary us and we should think it impossible to carry through. It would be a sad and melancholy life. But just for one half day, for one morning, till dinner-time, who would not be willing to go about with propriety and restrain his tongue ? After mid­day you will make your resolution only for the afternoon; as for tomorrow, God has not pronounced what it shall be; and how do you know if you shall get as far ? And if you do live so long as that, that is not more than one day either and you will not be sorry tomorrow to have spent today in such recollection; rather you will find yourself very glad of it and more disposed today to do it better and with greater facility and delight. I sometimes think that some people fail by not making a strenuous effort in this practice of making their resolution that half day only, and it would be a great help towards rendering their resolution more effectual.

In the chronicles of St. Francis it is related of Brother Juniper that, though he always spoke very little, yet one time he kept perpetual silence for six months together, in this way. The first day he purposed to keep silence in honor of God the Father; the second, in homage to God the Son; the third, in homage to the Holy Ghost; the fourth, for the love of our Lady; and so he ran through all the saints, each day observing silence with new fervor and devotion in honor of some one of them. Following this plan, a man is more encouraged to correct himself on that particular point on which he is making his particular examen and is also more ashamed and confounded for the faults that he com­mits, since even for so short a time he could not carry out his purpose. Thus in every way this method will be a great help to us.

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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