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
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
- 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.
amendment with His grace (in other words, find remedies so that those
sins aren't repeated in the future).
traditional to end the nightly examination of conscience with a Pater (the Our
If the sins we've uncovered involve grave matter -- and most definitely
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?
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
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
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
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.
1 The defense mechanisms are:
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.