Benedict XVI: The renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance.
It is hard to overestimate the importance of confession.
Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to America, said “The renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance.” Pope Francis continued his urgency, often repeating “Do not be afraid of Confession!”
The Catechism says, “The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the word of God.”
Here are some ways to prepare your heart and mind for confession.
Look to the Gospel basics
“The passages best suited to [the examination of conscience] can be found in the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings,” the Catechism continues.
Here is how the Compendium of the Catechism summarizes this “moral catechesis.”
The Two Commandments of Love
1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
The Five Precepts of the Church
1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and remain free from work or activity that could impede the sanctification of such days.
2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
The Seven Capital Sins
Look at your love
Meditatively read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Ask of each word: Is this me?
“Love is patient,
love is kind.
It is not jealous,
[love] is not pompous,
it is not inflated,
it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered,
it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Look at Christ
Read Colossians 3:1-10. Ask, “Do I indulge in these?”
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. … Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming [upon the disobedient]. By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way. But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.”
Look at your relationships
One recommended practice for examination of conscience is to ask: How is my relationship with God? With others? With myself? Questions that can get you started …
- My relationship with God
Am I generous in the way I live the precepts of the Church?
Did I skip Sunday Mass? Did I try to make the most of it, even if distracted? Did I tune it out and not try to tune back in?
Did I sacrifice other things for the sake of the Sabbath on Sunday, or did I, in effect, sacrifice the Sabbath for the sake of other things?
Have I been “saying” my prayers instead of “praying” them? Or neither?
What have I done to increase my faith, hope and love? Do I pray for more faith, hope and love?
- My relationship with others
Did I put myself at the service of others, or have I used others for my sake?
Did I show my spouse (children, parents, other family) love in words and actions?
Did I respect my spouse (children, parents, other family) enough to be honest with them?
How am I with my children? Am I careful about the example I set? Do I try to build their character, or is my discipline reactive, based on what bugs me?
How am I with my friends? Do I always make things go my way? Do I go along with them, even in what is morally offensive? Do I initiate or participate in gossip?
How am I with my employer? Do I make the best use of my time? Do I behave with gratitude for my employment?
How am I with those I oversee? Do I ignore their issues unless I have to deal with them? Am I overly lenient to save face? Am I too strict?
- My relationship with myself
Do I battle the capital sins in myself? (Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth.)
Do I live my Christian principles when no one is watching? Online? At work? In what I read? In what I watch? In what I listen to? In the car?
Am I a different person in my thoughts? Do I think things about others I could never say? Or do I strive to live the Golden Rule starting in my own heart?
What have I done to improve my character? How have I fought against attachments that hold me back?
Did I send God away and block him out of certain areas of my life — social life, leisure life, work life, studies, etc.?
Look at your sins of omission
The Last Judgment (sheep and goats), the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Parable of the Talents: In the stories Jesus tells about his judgment, he directs his greatest condemnation at sins of omission — our failure to do good. On the basis of Christ’s words, Archbishop Charles Chaput has said on several occasions, “If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.”
Ask yourself: What have I failed to do?
The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy
1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked.
4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Visit the sick.
6. Visit the imprisoned.
7. Bury the dead.
The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy
1. Counsel the doubtful.
2. Instruct the ignorant.
3. Admonish sinners.
4. Comfort the afflicted.
5. Forgive offenses.
6. Bear wrongs patiently.
7. Pray for the living and the dead.
Use the Ten Commandments
Here is a commonly used review of the Ten Commandments for confession; one that aims to be thorough.
- I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
Do I give God time every day in prayer?
Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart?
Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
Do I seek to surrender myself to God’s word as taught by the Church?
Have I ever received Communion in the state of mortal sin?
Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
Are there other “gods” in my life? Money, security, power, people, etc.?
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Have I used God’s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
Have I been angry with God?
Have I wished evil upon any other person?
Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
- Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
Do I do needless work on Sunday?
- Honor your father and your mother.
Do I honor and obey my parents?
Have I neglected my duties to my spouse and children?
Have I given my family good religious example?
Do I try to bring peace into my home life?
Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
- You shall not kill.
Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
Have I physically harmed anyone?
Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
Have I been angry or resentful?
Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization?
Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization?
Have I engaged, in any way, in sins against human life such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
- You shall not commit adultery.
Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new life?
Have I been guilty of masturbation?
Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations?
Have I respected all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as mere objects?
Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?
Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words, actions?
Am I careful to dress modestly?
- You shall not steal.
Have I stolen what is not mine?
Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
Do I gamble excessively, thereby denying my family of their needs?
Do I pay my debts promptly?
Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?
Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Have I lied? Have I gossiped?
Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
Have I injured the reputation of others by slanders?
- You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.
Have I consented to impure thoughts?
Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
Have I behaved in an inappropriate way with members of the opposite sex: flirting, being superficial, etc.?
- You shall not desire your neighbor’s goods.
Am I jealous of what other people have?
Do I envy the families or possessions of others?
Am I greedy or selfish?
Are material possessions the purpose of my life?