A Year with the Saints – 13 August


The examination of conscience, which all good people are accustomed to make before going to rest, in order to see how they have passed the day and whether they have gone forward or backward, is of the greatest use, not only to conquer evil inclinations and to uproot bad habits, but also to acquire virtues and to perform our ordinary duties well. We must, however, observe that its best use does not lie in discovering the faults we have committed in the day, but in exciting aversion for them, and in forming a strong resolution to commit them no more. Father M. d’ Avila

We read in monastic history that a holy monk said: “I do not think the devils have twice entangled me in the same fault.” The cause of this was that in examining his first fall, he was so penetrated with shame for his disloyalty, and with abhorrence for the sin committed, and he impressed so deeply upon his heart the resolution of falling into it no more, that no second temptation to it had any power over him. All the Saints and masters of the spiritual life have set a high value on this examination, practicing it and recommending it as a most efficacious means to eradicate any vice or fault, and to advance in perfection. We may see this in reading the Lives of Saint Dorotheus, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint John Climacus, Saint Bernard, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Ignatius Loyola and many others. The last-named esteemed it so much that, in a certain way, he even preferred it to meditation; “For, by the examen,” he said, “we put in practice what we draw from meditation.” So at the beginning, he kept his companions occupied for a long time in their examination of conscience, and in frequenting the Sacraments, for he thought if these things were well done it would be enough to preserve them in virtue. He testifies, too, of himself that if he had gained anything, he knew that it had been acquired, in great part, by the diligence he had every day employed in making his examen.

Even the heathen philosophers knew the great utility of such an examen. Saint Jerome relates of Pythagoras that among the instructions he gave his disciples, the one that he considered of the greatest importance was that they should have two times of day fixed, one in the morning, the other in the evening, when they should examine themselves upon three points: What have I done? How have I done it? What have I omitted that I ought to have done? – and that they should be pleased at the good which they discovered, and displeased at the evil. We read that Seneca, Plutarch, Epictetus and others, recommended the same thing.

MLA Citation