Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Nightly Examination
of Conscience

Lamentations 3:40 "Let us search our ways, and seek, and return to the Lord."

1 Corinthians 11:28-31 "But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you: and many sleep. But if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.


Self-examination is and always has been a part of being a part of Israel. Specific disciplines arose very early in monastic life, becoming a part of the regular daily exercises of the monks and nuns. St. Ignatius Loyola perfected the techniques in the 16th c., writing of them in his "Spiritual Exercises." His method for a General Examination of Conscience:

  • Give thanks to God for all benefits.
  • Ask grace to know your sins and cast them out.
  • Ask account of your soul from the hour that you rose up to the present Examen, hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts.
  • Ask pardon of God for the sins you committed during the day.
  • Purpose amendment with His grace (in other words, find remedies so that those sins aren't repeated in the future).  

It is traditional to end the nightly examination of conscience with a Pater (the Our Father prayer).

If the sins we've uncovered involve grave matter -- and most definitely if they were done with full consent and knowledge -- we receive the Sacrament of Penance as soon as possible and do not receive the Eucharist until we have done so.

For specific questions to ask yourself, you can download the pdf "Examination of Conscience," which lists the questions on the page on the Sacrament of Confession.

When examining oneself, it is important to go more deeply than merely "counting sins." You should try to develop a true and profound sense of humility, becoming able to recognize your individual failings in particular circumstances so that you figure out when, where, who you tend to be with, etc., when you stumble so you can avoid near occasions of sin in the future. You should also try as fully as possible to see your general propensity for evil and your need of Christ to save you from it. You have to "face your shadow," as they say. Look fully at all the horrible things you've done, the cringe-inducing, shameful behaviors and attitudes you find in yourself, and confess them. Give them to Christ. Try to ascertain what sorts of ugly things roil around in your unconscious, the sorts of defense mechanisms1 you use, the truths you find difficult to face, or are unwilling to face -- especially hard truths about yourself, and ones that drive your motivations. Look in the mirror and stare until your persona -- the "face" you present to the world so that people will like you -- dissolves and there is no one looking back but you. What do you see? What do you really, truly see? Do you lie to yourself? Do you lie to others? How do you plan on being honest with yourself and with others in the future?  Do you use emotions to manipulate others?

We all engage in some degree of "persona-making": what sort do you engage in? Does your way of doing things make you feel weak, fraudulent, ashamed, or contemptible? What petty little thoughts crossed your mind today? Where did they come from? In what ways did your lack of humility cause you to twist a truth, harm another, or engage in pettiness? What vicious little passive-aggressive acts did you engage in today? What or whom do you resent? Why? Is your resentment just or is it really your own envy, perhaps the result of your own failures? If the latter, what is preventing you from doing something about your situation to make things right? Fear? What are your fears? Is your "niceness" actually cowardice? What other possible vices are posing as virtues in you? With whom are you angry? Is your anger justified? How should you deal with it? How have you failed to deal with it properly? Whom, if anyone, do you need to forgive? Why haven't you forgiven them? To whom do you need to apologize and possibly make restitution? With regard to whatever problem from which you may be suffering: is there some way in which you benefit from that problem? If so, does that benefit cause you to not want to fix the problem?
How will you become more virtuous and pleasing to God?

And as you think about your inner life and deep motivations, pay attention to dreams that feel significant to you (especially dreams that are repetitive, at least thematically), and when remembering them, ask yourself what the things, people, feelings, and actions of the dream remind you of. The stuff of dreams is often symbolic of things from your waking life, and can sometimes be very useful. If you see a grenade in your dream, for ex., describe "grenade," list the mental or emotional associations you make with grenades, and look at the words and ideas you came up with. Then ask yourself what in your life can be described by those same sorts of words. Then return to the dream, ask yourself what the grenade was doing, how long it had been there, where it came from, where it was, who had it, what, if anything, was blown up by it, what you felt about it in the dream, etc.,Then see if there are any similarities between the way you described those dream elements and the way you could describe things or people in your waking life. Making use of this psychological phenomenon can often be very helpful in trying to determine things you might need to think about or work on in your life.

To help you develop the humility needed to examine yourself properly, this 8th century Irish Litany of Confession might help.

Now, once you've examined yourself, told God you're sorry, decided to sin no more, and resolved to go to confession in a timely manner, rejoice! Yes, you're a sinner. Yes, you've messed up. But you're likely no worse than anybody else. And if you are contrite, you are forgiven.You're forgiven because you are so deeply loved by the One Who created the Sun and Moon and Stars. Now love yourself as well, which means to will the good for yourself. Forgive yourself. And be at peace.


1 The defense mechanisms are:

1. Denial: Denial is the refusal to recognize something that is true. For ex., a person who wrongly thinks it immoral to feel anger might refuse to recognize any anger in himself at all.

2. Repression: Repression is forgetting a truth so that it can't be brought to conscious thought without great effort. For ex., a person who endures a great trauma may very well unconsciously "blank out" the details of it. 

3. Regression: Regression is reverting back to a less mature state. For ex., a person under stress might throw a tantrum like a child, or curl up in a fetal position and desire maternal comfort.

4. Displacement: Displacement is the transferring of feelings about something to something else. For ex., a person might get yelled at by his boss at work, and then come home and take his anger out on his innocent wife.

5. Projection: Projection is the assuming that your own feelings, fears, or insecurities are those of others. For ex., a person may feel as if everyone dislikes him, so he then overtly acts on the idea that no one likes him and accuses them of not liking him.

6. Reaction formation: Reaction formation is the twisting of an unpleasant emotion or desire into its opposite. For ex., a person may have unwanted homosexual desires, so he hates homosexuals and inordinately focuses on the disorder of homosexuality.

7. Intellectualization: Intellectualization is retreating into the intellect in order to not confront painful truths or emotions. For ex., a person may be dumped by a boyfriend, but instead of dealing with and working through her grief, she distracts herself with reading History books.

8. Rationalization: Rationalization is using reasoning to avoid unpleasant thoughts or feelings. For ex., if the person who gets dumped by a boyfriend, and instead of dealing with the pain involved, goes on to convince herself that she "didn't want him anyway" because of this or that reason, she is rationalizing.

9. Sublimation: Sublimation is the channeling of unwanted or unpleasant emotions or desires into acceptable pursuits, such as art or study, etc. For ex., a person who is inordinately angry might paint pictures of battlefield scenes instead of acting unjustly on his angry feelings. Sublimation is a healthy defense mechanism, but it is still good to know oneself even as one sublimates unhealthy feelings or desires into making something useful or beautiful.

It's also helpful to consider the ways in which any dysfunction -- anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, indecisiveness, etc. -- serves you or acts as a means to help you avoid something. Maladaptive ways of being and behaving are often based on unconsciously held beliefs or are means of avoiding some other, deeper pain -- even pain experienced in the past -- that must be faced.

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