On What Subjects the Particular Examination of Conscience Should Be Made

by admin on August 8, 2010

WE have two examens in the Society, one particular, the other general. The particular examination of conscience is made on one subject only; the general examination of conscience is made on all the faults that we have committed that day in thought, word, and deed; and that is why it is called general, because it embraces all. We will speak first of the particular examen and then say briefly what is to be added concerning the gen­eral, because many things have to be done alike both in gen­eral and in particular, and what shall be said of the particu­lar will serve also for the general. We will deal with two things concerning this examen: first, on what subjects it should be made; secondly, how it should be made.

We Should Start With The Weakest Part Of Our Souls

Touching the first point, that we may understand to what subjects we should principally apply this examen, there is to be carefully noted one rule and direction that our Father gives in his book of Spiritual Exercises, and he has it from St. Bonaventure. He says that the devil conducts himself towards us like a commander who is minded to attack and capture a city or fortress. He goes about with all diligence to reconnoiter first of all the weakest point of the fortifi­cation, and there he concentrates all his artillery and employs all his forces, though it be at the risk of great loss of life; because if he can batter that part down, he is sure to gain an entrance and take the city. So the devil takes measures to reconnoiter in us the weakest part of our soul, to assail and overcome us there. This, then, should serve as a warning to us to be beforehand and on our guard against our enemy. We must look at and recognize atten­tively the weakest part of our soul, the part most destitute of virtue, which is that to which natural inclination or passion or bad custom or evil habit most carries us, and there we must keep better watch and ward. The saints and masters of spiritual life say that this should be our chief endeavor, with special care and diligence to root out from within us this vice, because this is where our want is great­est, and chiefly to this we should apply the particular examination of conscience.

The Weakest Parts Of Our Souls Makes Us Fall Into The Greatest Faults

Cassian gives two reasons for this; the first is that this weakness it is that generally puts us into the greatest dan­gers and makes us fall into the greatest faults, and therefore it is reasonable that we should apply there our great­est care and diligence. The second is that once we have conquered and subdued our strongest enemies, that make the most serious war upon us, we shall easily overcome and strike down the rest. The soul is braced up and strength­ened by the sense of triumph and victory, and the enemy proportionately weakened, Cassian quotes to this effect the example of certain games that formerly took place in Rome in presence of the emperor, where they brought out many wild beasts for men to fight with; and they who wished to signalize themselves more and give pleasure to the emperor, made first for that animal which they saw to be the strongest and most ferocious, reckoning that when that was conquered and dead, they should have an easy triumph over the rest. So he says we should act. We see by experi­ence that commonly each one has a sort of “King Vice” that carries him away for the great inclination that he has to it. There are certain passions that are called predomi­nant, which seem to lord it over us and make us do what otherwise we would not do. So you hear some people say: “If I had not this, I think there is nothing that would embarrass me or give me trouble.” This, then, we should attend to most in our particular examination of conscience.

Once Strengthened, Our Souls Will Defeat The Other Vices More Easily

In the war that the king of Syria waged against the king of Israel, Holy Scripture tells us (I Chron. xviii. 30) that he gave command to all the captains of his army not to fight against anyone, great or small, but only against the king of Israel, thinking that in overcoming the king he overcame his whole army. And so it turned out; for, when King Achab was struck with an arrow, shot at random on the chance of hitting someone, the battle was over. That is what we have to do; overcome this “King Vice,” because thereupon all the rest of his crew will readily give in; cut off the head of this giant Goliath and at once all the other Philistines will be routed and fly. This is the best general rule for everyone to understand on what he ought to make this examen.

The Best Advice Is To Do This With A Spiritual Director

But in particular one of the best pieces of advice that can be given in this matter is for everyone to confer with his confessor and spiritual father, having first given him an entire account of his conscience, of all his inclinations, passions, affections, and bad habits, without there remain­ing anything that he does not lay open; for in this way everyone’s need and particular circumstances being seen and understood, it will be easy to determine on what point it will be proper to make the particular examination of conscience. And one of the principal things that are to be mentioned in giving an account of conscience is on what the particular examen is made and what profit is derived from it, as is laid down in the Rules of the Prefect of Spiritual Things, and the instruction we have on this subject. It is very important for everyone to succeed in making the particular examen on what is most suitable for him. As a physician has effected not a little, but a great deal, when he has diagnosed the root of the illness, because then he will hit upon the right remedies, and the medicines will take effect; so we have achieved not a little, but a great deal, if we hit upon the root of our infirmities and ailments, because that will be to hit upon the cure of them by applying the remedy and medicine of the examen. One of the reasons why many make little profit of their examen is because they do not apply it where they ought to apply it. If you cut the root of the tree and tear up the weed by the roots, all the rest will soon wither and die; but if you go for the branches and leave the root, it will soon sprout and grow again.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

{ 2 comments }

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