The Examination of Conscience is a Means of Putting into Practice all other Spiritual Directions and Virtues

by admin on December 2, 2011

The blessed St. Basil, after having given his monks many spiritual directions, concludes with this, that every night before going to bed they should make an examination of conscience, thinking that this will be sufficient to secure the observance of all that he has said and hold them to it.  With this also I wish to conclude this treatise, much commending this examination to all, since by the grace of the Lord it will be enough to put all other spiritual directions into execution and remedy all our faults. If you are grow­ing slack at prayer, careless of obedience, uncontrolled in talking, beginning to take back a little of your free and easy worldly ways, all that will be stopped and cured at once by the examination of conscience. He who makes this examination of conscience every day may reckon that he carries with him a governor, a master of novices, a superior, who every day and every hour will ask of him an account, advise him what to do, and rebuke him on any point on which he fails.

Father Master Avila says: “Your faults cannot go on long if this examination of conscience goes on,” and this squaring of your accounts and rebuking yourself every day and every hour.  And if your faults do go on, and at the end of many days, and perhaps years, you are as unmortified, your passions as full and lively as at the beginning, it is because you do not use as you ought these means that we have for our spiritual progress. For if you had really taken to heart the getting rid of one fault and the gaining of one virtue and had gone about it with care and diligence, pur­posing amendment three times a day at least, morning, midday, and night, comparing every day the faults of the evening with those of the morning, and the faults of today with those of yesterday, and those of this week with those of the week past, repenting and being ashamed so many times for having fallen and begging support of our Lord and of His saints to correct yourself at the end of so much time you would have come out with some result.

But if a man goes on making his examination of conscience out of routine and for form’s sake, without any true sorrow for his faults and any firm purposes of amendment, that is no examen, but a vain ceremony and a Christmas game.   Hence it is that the same evil propensities and the same bad habits and inclinations that a man brought from the world, he keeps after many years of religion.   If he was proud, proud he is today; if he was impatient and haughty, the same he is today; if he used to utter sharp and stinging words, he utters them today: he is as unmannerly today as he was the first day, as self-willed, as greedy, as great a lover of his own comforts.   And God grant that, instead of advanc­ing and growing in virtue, they have not grown in ill-nature and in free and easy ways as they became seniors in reli­gion; and that, while they ought to be more humble, they are not more uppish and presumptuous and fall not into that false position of which St. Bernard speaks: “Many there are who there in the world would have been held in small account, and here in religion want to be great peo­ple; and who there would not have found necessaries, but here seek comforts”—Quodque perversum est, plerique in domo Dei non patiuntur haberi contemptui, qui in sua non-nisi contemptibiles esse potuerunt,

From what has been said it will appear also what a bad excuse it is that some make for their faults, saying: “Oh, that is my way.” Rather he is all the more to blame who, knowing that he has this or that bad way and being bound to bestow all his care and diligence in fortifying that weak side of his character, not to come to ruin thereby, lets him­self be at the end of so long a time as passionate and unrestrained as he was the first day he came. Let him, then, who makes it his business to serve God—for to all such per­sons we are speaking here—enter into himself and begin anew, trying henceforth to get his examination of con­science well done, so that the fruit thereof may appear. We are men, and we have our faults and shall have them so long as we are in this life; but we should try to realize three things by aid of the examination of conscience. In the first place, if our faults were many, let them henceforth be few; sec­ondly, if they were great, let them be smaller; thirdly, let them not always be the same, for to repeat the same fault time after time argues great carelessness and negligence.

Evagruis, in a book which he wrote on the life and bodily exercises of monks, mentions one holy monk who said: “I do not know that the devils have ever caught me twice in the same fault.” This man must have made his examen of conscience well; this man repented in earnest and made firm purposes of amendment. In this way, then, we should make our examens. By this means God raised and elevated our blessed Father Ignatius to such perfection. We read in his Life a notable and very special thing. Comparing yester­day with today and his present state of progress with his past, he found that every day he had advanced and gained ground, or, rather, had gained not earthly ground but heaven. So much so that in his old age he came to say that the state in which he was at Manresa—which in the time of his studies he used to call his “primitive Church”—had been like a noviceship; and daily God went on adorning his soul and filling in with tints of perfection the portrait of which at Manresa He had sketched only the outlines. Let us, then, use as we ought the means which the Lord has so specially given us, and let us have great confidence that thereby He will raise us to the perfection which we desire.

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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