Examination of Conscience, Mortal Sin, Precepts of the Church, Reconciliation, Sin, Ten Commandments, Venial Sin, Virtue
In yesterday’s post Spiritual Atrophy and the Need for an Examination of Conscience During Self-Isolation I promised to provide various methods of making a thorough examination of conscience. The first of the three ways I will offer is what I call the “Checklist” method. This, I believe, is the most common form used and the best for anyone who does not regularly make an examination, and for those just beginning.
However, before we look at this method, let’s take a more general look at why we should do an examination of conscience, and what to look for.
An examination’s main purpose is to help us see which actions and/or attitudes we have exhibited that are sinful or less than desirable so that we can make amends. We need to know these so we can stop sinning in a particular way and make changes to get better at obeying God’s Commandments and trying to live lives of virtue.
In making our examination, we particularly want to look at the sin and its gravity, that is, it’s seriousness – is it a mortal sin, a venial sin, or simply an imperfection.
Mortal sins are those sins which deplete our souls of sanctifying grace. Three things are necessary for a sin to be mortal:
- It has to be serious (grave);
- One has to have knowledge or a firm belief that the act is seriously wrong prior to committing the act;
- One must commit the act with full consent of one’s will.
All three of these things must be present for a sin to be considered mortal. Thus, if you did not know the act was of serious nature, or if you did not will it, e.g. you were forced to commit it or it was committed in a dream, then you are not guilty of committing a mortal sin.
All mortal sins committed since one’s last confession must be confessed, both the nature of the sin and how many times it was committed. It’s important to remember that one needs to confess all mortal sins prior to receiving communion as receiving communion while not in a state of grace is itself a mortal sin.
Venial sins are those committed which are not grave in nature or were not committed knowingly such as those committed out of habit. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation however it is good practice to do so. By bringing these into the light of Christ’s forgiveness, we more easily grow in the virtue of humility. It helps us pay attention to our actions so that we may refrain from sinful habits and, thus, grow in holiness.
Imperfections may include dispositions of one’s soul that are not necessarily sinful but which one would like to amend. It is not necessary to bring these to confession but it is a good idea to be aware of them and the habits from which they originate. These are areas that could become sinful if left unchecked. They could be those little things that weigh on the conscience of someone who is earnestly trying to grow in holiness. Examples of imperfections may include: trying to be controlling instead of seeking God’s will; being content with spiritual mediocrity; failing to defend the Church; failing to spend time in prayer; or taking your spouse or a parent for granted.
As I mentioned above, the most common method of examining one’s conscience is what I dub the “Checklist” method. This entails reading a printed list of questions that are based on the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, and the Cardinal, Theological, and Capital Virtues; and then reflecting on your actions from God’s perspective, to uncover one’s sinful instances. Below, I am providing links to various websites that offer these checklists, all of which, except for the last one, are printable. Note that they are all a little different. Some may frame a question in such a way that it helps to determine if a sin is mortal or venial. Some may not make the distinction but leave it up to you to decide.
Of course, it doesn’t do much good to do an examination of conscience if you don’t intend to try and amend your ways and refrain from sinning again or avoiding future near occasions of sin. That’s what it’s all about.
Tomorrow I will present a second method of examining one’s conscience: the CPR method.
God bless you all!
- Examination of Conscience for Adults and Teens, The Fathers of Mercy
- Detailed Examination of Conscience, Bulldog Catholic (University of Minnesota-Duluth Newman Center)
- An Examination of Conscience, Loyola Press (short and sweet)
- A Brief Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments, USCCB
- The Light is on for you, A guide to making a thorough examination of conscience and a good confession
- An Examination of Conscience by Fr. Robert Altier, The Leaflet Company ($1.25 per copy, this is my preferred resource)
(How to Make a Thorough Examination of Conscience – Part 1: The “Checklist” Method was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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