A Good Catholic Examination of Conscience Should Be Made On One Thing Only

by admin on August 12, 2010

That the Particular Examination of Conscience Must Be Made on One Thing Only

THE particular examination of conscience must always be made on one thing only, as the name itself implies. And the reason why it is proper to do so is that in this way the method is more effectual than if we made it on many things together; for it is clear, and natural reason teaches, that a man can do much more against one vice by itself than by taking many together, for he who clutches at much, grasps little. This manner of overcoming our enemies, that is, our vices and passions, Cassian says, was taught us by the Holy Ghost instructing the children of Israel how to behave against those seven tribes and nations opposed to them, to overcome and destroy them. Thou canst not overcome them all together, but little by little God will give thee victory over them all (Deut. vii. 22). Cas­sian observes, as though answering a tacit objection, that there is no fear lest, when a man turns his attention against one vice alone and gives his chief care to that, the rest may do him much harm. First, because this very care taken to correct one particular vice will cause in his soul a great horror and abhorrence of all other vices for the common motive on which they all agree; thus going forearmed against them all. Secondly, because he who goes about his particular examination of conscience with care to root out that one evil thing, thus cuts at the radical tendency there is in the heart to all other evil things, which is the license of letting oneself go after anything and everything that one likes. Thus the making of the particular examination of conscience against one vice is fight­ing against all vices, since this check and vigilance employed on one particular serves also for the rest. We see in the case of a wild horse how drawing the bridle and giv­ing him the check, that he may not be unruly and run dis­orderly down one way, serves also that he may not run disorderly down other ways. Add to this a third considera­tion, that every day also we make another examen, a gen­eral examination of conscience, which embraces all the rest.

So far must the principle be carried of not making the particular examen except upon one thing alone, that even in dealing with one vice or one virtue it is many times, and indeed most commonly, better to divide it into parts and degrees, and to go little by little applying the particular examen first to one part or degree and then to another, so to be able better to attain the end desired; for if we were to take it in general, all in a heap, we should effect noth­ing. Thus, if one wishes to apply the particular examen to the rooting out of pride and vanity and the gaining of humility, he must not take it in general thus: “I intend to be proud in nothing, but humble in all things,” for that comprises much; indeed, it would be attempting more than if you were to make your particular examen on three or four things together, and so there would be little gained for your clutching at too many things. What you have to do is to divide it into parts or degrees. In this way the ene­mies, being divided and taken one at a time, will be better overcome and we shall come to gain more expeditiously what we desire.

For the better putting of this in practice, we will set down here some main things on which the particular examen may be made, dividing them into parts and degrees. And though for some virtues we have done this in special treatises, yet, that it may be found all together in this its proper place, we will gather it together here; and we may also use it as a pattern and mirror in which we may look and see whether we are getting on and what is wanting to us to gain perfection.

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