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

The Penitent Magdalen, by Georges de La Tour, 1638-43


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."

Outline of St. Ignatius's steps for a General Examination of Conscience:

  • The first Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.
     
  • The second, to ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.
     
  • The third, to ask account of our soul from the hour that we 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.
     
  • The fourth, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.
     
  • The fifth, to purpose amendment with His grace.  

It is traditional to end the nightly examination of conscience with the Our Father.

If the sins we've uncovered involve grave matter -- especially 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.

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, able to recognize not only your individual failings in particular circumstances as per the method above 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 until you're able to master those occasions, but also so that you can see as fully as possible your general propensity for evil and your need of Christ to save you from it. To put things as Carl Jung would, you have to "face your shadow." Try to ascertain what sorts of things roil around in your unconscious, the sorts of defense mechanisms1 you use, the Truths you are unwilling to face -- especially hard Truths about yourself -- and 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? 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 (what is preventing you from doing something about your situation to make things right? Sloth? Lack of fortitude? Fear?)? What are your fears? How will you conquer them? How will you become more virtuous and pleasing to God?

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, and actions of the dream remind you of. You see, the stuff of dreams is often symbolic of things, people, and actions 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, etc., and describe those elements and actions in the same manner in which you described "grenade." Doing this sort of thing can often be very helpful in trying to determine things you might need to think about or work on in your life.


Footnotes:

1 The defense mechanisms are:

1. Denial: Denial is the refusal to recognize something that is true. For ex., a person who 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.


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