That in the Particular Examination of Conscience We Should Insist and Dwell Principally Upon Deep Words of Sorrow and Purpose of Amendment

by admin on August 24, 2010

THAT is to be particularly very much observed as regards the method of making the examination is the matter of the three points which it contains. The two last are the most important; that is, grief and repentance for our faults and negligence’s and a firm purpose of amendment to correct them, according to that text of the prophet, Have compunc­tion in your beds (Psalm iv. 5). In this sentiment of com­punction and repentance and in this firm purpose not to fall again, all the force and efficacy of the examination of conscience as a means of self-amendment lies; and, therefore, on this most time should be spent. One of the chief reasons why many get little profit and amendment out of their examens is that they let the whole time slip away in searching out the times in which they have fallen into faults; and scarcely have they done with this point when examen time is over, and they do the rest superficially. They do not dwell on deep sorrow and repentance for their faults, nor on being ashamed and begging pardon for them, nor on making firm a purpose of amendment for that afternoon or the day following, nor in begging God’s grace and strength to that end. Hence it comes that, as many times as you have fallen today, so many you fall tomorrow, because the only thing you have done in the particular examination of conscience is to remember and call to mind the number of times that you have fallen. That is not the way to correct yourself; it is only the first point of the examen and the foundation on which the other principal points must be built. The effectual way to correct yourself is to grieve and repent in all sincerity for your faults, with a firm purpose of amending them, and to ask our Lord for grace to that end. You will never amend yourself if you do not that. These two things, grief for the past and purpose of amendment for the future, are so akin to one another that the one goes on at the same rate as the other, for it is certain that, where we really abhor a thing, we take care not to plunge into it.

Every day we say and preach this to seculars; it is only reasonable that we should take it to ourselves. What is the reason, we say, why people in the world fall back again so easily into the same sins after so many confessions ? Do you know what it is? The reason commonly is that they did not detest them in good earnest, nor did they come to confession with firm purposes never to sin again. Thus, since their heart was never fully determined to return wholly to God, but they only turned round half-face, as they say, they easily went back to what they had never entirely quitted; whereas, if they had been really sorry and detested their sin and had a firm purpose of amendment never to sin again, they would not have gone back to it at once so easily on leaving the confessional, just as if they had not confessed at all. For this reason also it is that you fall into the same faults in the afternoon as in the morning and the same today as yesterday, because you were not sorry for them in good earnest, nor detested them from your heart, nor had any firm purpose of amendment, nor dwelt upon this. Had you done so, you would not have relapsed into them so readily and so easily, since we are not wont so easily to do what we have once detested and what we are grieved and pained at having done. Sorrow and repentance for our sins, when it is real, not only rids us of past sins, but is a medi­cine preservative for the future; for he who steadily abhors sin is far from falling into it anew.

Even that heathen philosopher knew the efficacy and force of this means for not falling into sin, for, when a bad woman asked him an excessive price for sinning, he answered: “I do not buy repentance at so dear a rate.” Let this answer be noted, for it is worthy not only of a philos­opher, but of a Christian and a religious. Sometimes I set myself to consider the folly of those who make up their minds to sin by saying: “I will repent afterwards and God will pardon me.” But how can you be so foolish as to choose just now to gratify your appetite and gather a brief thrill of pleasure that passes in a moment, bargaining with it to keep up afterwards for life a perpetual sorrow and repentance for having allowed yourself that gratification? For, though it is true that God will pardon you that sin afterwards, if you repent of it, yet, after all, to obtain par­don, it is necessary to repent and be sorry afterwards for having done it. There is much force in this argument, even if we think only of earthly considerations—apart from the motive of the love of God, which should always be our prin­cipal motive—and look merely at our own satisfaction and self-love. I have no mind to do that which I know must give me afterwards much pain and much grief for having done it. The thrill of pleasure in doing it is over in a moment, while the grief and pain of having done it must, last all my life, so that I can never afterwards take satis­faction or complacency therein. Great folly it is to choose so much pain at the price of so little pleasure.

St. Paul says the thing better: What fruit did ye gather from that whereof ye are now ashamed? (Rom. vi. 21). What show can that small satisfaction that you get make in comparison with the sorrow that you must feel after­wards ? This should be considered beforehand before a fall. When the temptation comes, you should make this calcula­tion and say: “I have no mind to do that of which I must afterwards be ashamed and repent as long as I live.” Even here, when you want to persuade a man not to do a thing, you say to him: “See how you will repent afterwards of having done it.” And he says: “No, I shall not repent;” for, if he thought that he would repent, he sees well what madness it would be to do what he knows must afterwards make him sorry and give him much pain.

I have said this that it may be seen what an efficacious means true sorrow and repentance is, to prevent our falling into our faults again; hence we may understand how impor­tant it is to dwell on this in our examens. It is true that one may have true sorrow and purpose of amendment and withal relapse again into sin, for we are not angels, but weak men, vessels of earth, which may break and fall to pieces and once more be made up again. Nevertheless, when a man, after finishing his confession, returns at once to the same oaths and to the same desires and sins that he has just confessed, we are wont commonly to say that he cannot have had true contrition or sorrow for that sin, nor any firm purpose of amendment, seeing that he relapses so quickly. In the same way it is a great indication and argu­ment that you were not really sorry and had not any firm purpose of amendment when you made your examen at mid­day or at night on having broken silence, to see how that same afternoon or the very next day you break silence just in the same way as if you had not made any examen; and I say the same of other faults on which you are making examen. Even before your brethren you are ashamed to tell a fault or have it told you when you have told it already three or four times. How much more should you be ashamed before God, if you have really told your fault before Him, repenting of it from your heart and begging pardon and purposing amendment, not thrice or four times, but more than three or four dozen times! No doubt we should amend ourselves and make progress in quite another way if we repented and were sorry in good earnest and made firm purposes of amendment.

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