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I pray this finds you physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy on this nth day of your isolation. Hang in there, this storm shall pass. Talking about storms – the thunderstorms that galloped through our area of southwest Ohio the night before last were replaced with beautiful sunshine and cloudless skies today. A sign, perhaps, to not lose hope.

Today’s Gospel is from Jn 8:1-11, the story of the adulterous woman. After Jesus challenged the accusing Pharisees to cast the first stone at the woman only if they themselves were without sin, they all departed without further condemnation. Likewise, Jesus, out of his great and merciful love told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

In the verse before the Gospel, God speaks through His Prophet Ezekiel, “I swear I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ez 33:11)

Our God is a God of second chances, and third chances, and fourth…. He loves us so much that as long as we earnestly try to turn from our evil ways, from our sinfulness, He will not condemn us. And, to allow us to receive His loving mercy and forgiveness, He has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Although the communal penance services that are normally offered during Lent have, like Mass, fallen casualty to the social distancing precautions of the pandemic, confessions are still being heard on a normal and regular basis in most parishes.

I know many of you are using this time of isolation to grow spiritually in your relationship with God. You’re staying spiritually active by watching live-streamed masses, praying a Rosary daily, and living charitably by reaching out to help others in need. Perhaps you’re focused on fulfilling the obligations of your God-given vocation by getting things done around the house. Maybe you’re the husband who’s been telling your wife, “I’m going to do it, you don’t have to remind me every six months!”

I also know that for many, especially for those who have lost their jobs, or have taken on the responsibility of home schooling their children, life is difficult and frustrating. You may be in desperation mode and the last thing on your mind is your spiritual health.

But, I also suspect there are many who are using this time as a hiatus from their spiritual lives. Although it may not be intentional, their spiritual lives may have waned, or atrophied, simply because they cannot go to mass on Sundays as they have been accustomed. Atrophy is defined as “a gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect”. It is a progressive decline that can happen so slowly we don’t even notice it.

The cure for atrophy is action – that is, to create a force to overcome the inertia of inactivity, sloth, and procrastination. Spiritually, God has given us that cure in the form of actual grace, the gift that helps us conform our lives to His will. It’s the same grace that urges us to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we’re in a state of mortal sin and bankrupt of sanctifying grace.

I have been trying to stay spiritually alive during my isolation. But, after reading this morning’s Scripture I see where I’ve unconsciously neglected an important part of my daily prayer life: my nightly examination of conscience. My wife and I have taken this opportunity to do more things together and one of those things is putting together jigsaw puzzles, something we enjoy. We just finished our sixth, one thousand-piece puzzle in the last two weeks. We’ll start one after dinner and, since it takes us about six hours to complete one, we may not get to bed before one o’clock in the morning. By then I’m mentally wasted and too tired to remember to do my examen before turning in. Left unchecked, this can be a slippery slope.

God wants us to turn away from our sin and turn back to Him. The mechanism to begin that about face where we can know our sins, both mortal and venial, is through an examination of conscience. To paraphrase St. Augustine, it means to turn inward and see God as our witness in everything that we do. It means asking ourselves if we are following the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and if we are imitating Christ by living lives of virtue. The answers will tell us what we need to work on and what we ought to take with us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If you regularly make an examination of conscience, now is not the time to stop. Rather, it’s a good time to double down and concentrate on those personal faults and failings that impact our relationships since, for many, it is our relationships with family and God that are easily strained under the current circumstances of our isolation.

If you do not regularly make an examination of conscience, or if you do but want to be more thorough, I will, over the next few days, provide various methods of making a thorough examination of conscience. Check in tomorrow as I offer what I call the “Checklist” method. Until then, God bless you and stay healthy.

“Loving and merciful God, thank You for the grace to realize that I am a sinner and that I need to always bring into the light those areas where I fall. Thank You for the grace to make an examination of conscience and then, with a contrite heart, bring my sins to You in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And, thank You for Your forgiveness, always giving me another chance to do Your will and follow the lead of Your Beloved Son, Jesus. Amen.”

(Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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