Spirituality

The examination of conscience: easier than stepping on the scale each morning

"But then, I stink at discipline..."

35) Learn to make an Ignatian “Examen” every night. Remembering God’s mercy each night helps us be merciful. — 56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy

The nightly examination of conscience is to the spiritual life what stepping on the scale each morning is to the dieting life.

Though the scale’s number can be distressing, it’s not really a surprise. You know there are reasons you weigh what you weigh. But do you really want to examine your food choices? Probably not.

That would mean acknowledging I ate cake in the afternoon.  It would mean I’d be facing all the details about why the number is what the number is.

The idea of an examination of conscience after a hard day sound about as good as stepping on the scale after an afternoon cake.

However, studies have proven that weighing daily and keeping a food diary help curb dietary abuses. Successes lead to more, as you see that it is possible to advance. The roots of failures are unveiled (that afternoon slice of German chocolate didn’t have anything to do with a hungry stomach or even tempted eyes; it was actually to mitigate frustration over the 7-year-old’s attitude with just about everyone).

The same sort of scrutiny in the spiritual realm can curb faults and failures of will, as well as reveal the occasions when God’s grace triumphs, thus rescuing us from devil-induced discouragement.

And of course, unlike the scale, which couldn’t care less about your efforts, the examination of conscience is a moment of dialogue with a doting Father, who will praise every attempt to step toward him, even as he consistently and endlessly calls us away from evil.

So yeah, yeah, I knew I needed to do a nightly exam just as much as I knew I needed a morning weigh-in. More, of course. Because my growth in sanctity is infinitely more important than my waistline.

What made me finally stop fighting the not so subtle suggestion of the Holy Spirit to do a daily examination of conscience? Well, it wasn’t when I read about it online at a favorite site. It wasn’t when I heard it from the priest during the homily. It wasn’t when the Catholic radio broadcaster promoted it during my drive to the grocery store.  It was when my newly confirmed daughter discussed it with her younger brother.  

My 12-year-old son pondered aloud, “Why wouldn’t everyone do this? Why isn’t it taught?”  

I answered, “It is taught. People have to choose to apply it,” and I rattled off what I knew about its history and the Jesuits and spiritual exercises.

“Do you do it, Mom?” he asked …

Lots of people think God whispers. I think God laughs as He gets louder and louder: “Can you hear me now?!” 

Discipline is a cure, in dietary matters and in spiritual growth. I stink at discipline.  

But as I was writing down what I ate for breakfast and lunch, I googled An Examination of Conscience and reminded myself: The biggest obstacle to holiness in my life — and healthiness in my life — is me.   

And what is the connection between making an examination of conscience, every day, and the Year of Mercy? It helps us to remember, every day, that we rely on the mercy of God. It’s a humbling thing to consider, and in considering it, we realize we who benefit from mercy have no choice but to show mercy to others.

[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Do you conduct a nightly ‘Examen’?]