Wednesday, February 15, 2012


II. Self-examination.

Self-knowledge is a necessary requisite for prudent self-denial. It is naturally difficult to attain (1) because it is almost impossible for us to obtain a true perspective of ourselves; (2) because the study of self is humiliating; (3) because our pride and self-love easily deceive us; (4) because the world and the devil frown on such a study and fill us with repugnance for it.

With the aid of God's grace, however, we can easily make progress in learning ourselves, provided we are faithful in the practice of self-examination. And in proportion as we grow in the knowledge of self, shall we also grow in humility, and realize the necessity of cultivating a closer union with God. In proportion as we acquire knowledge of ourselves and profit by it may we say with St. Paul: “I so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air: But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection'' (1 Cor. ix. 26).

If, on the other hand, we neglect our self-examination, we become the willing slaves of tepidity and spiritual stagnation, from which we may be aroused only when the light of eternity will reveal our real selves before the judgment seat of God.

1. A General Examination of the Interior.

A general examination of the interior is a complete accounting of our spiritual condition. It examines (1) our natural or acquired inclinations; (2) our fidelity to grace; (3) our conduct when tempted; (4) the good and the evil we have done; (5) and the intention, the motive, and the rule of our actions.

This general examination, when carefully made, gradually enlightens us to see ourselves as we are in the sight of God. By renewing it from time to time we may observe not only our general progress or retrogression, but also discover the weak points in our character on which we should concentrate our energies. As successful merchants take an inventory of their stock and balance their accounts frequently, so we do well in making a general examination of our interior every month or at least once a year.

2. The Daily Examination of Conscience

As children of God and heirs to the kingdom of heaven we should not retire at night without settling our accounts with the Almighty. In the examination of conscience which we are urged to make at the close of the day, we are to inquire only into the actual sins we may have committed, and blot them out by an act of perfect contrition or fervent love of God. The strictest severity towards ourselves should characterize this examination, not so much in the time we devote to it, as (1) in the rigor with which we judge ourselves, (2) in the sorrow we elicit, (3) and in the firmness of our purpose of amendment. With these sentiments we may retire in peace, and die in peace if God so ordains, for ''a contrite and humbled heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 1. 19).

3. The Particular Examination.

The particular examination inquires specially into the condition of a fault to be eradicated, or of a virtue to be practiced. In the first stage of the spiritual life it is advisable to make our predominant fault the subject of this particular examination. As we progress it may be profitable to select the subject of fraternal charity.

In regard to this examination it may be well to remark (1) that the subject should correspond with the stage of our spiritual progress; (2) that the subject should not be changed until additional progress has been made; (3) that the particular examination may be made at any convenient time during the day, or in connection with the evening examination; (4) that the time devoted to this exercise should be brief; (5) that the examination itself should consist of a short prayer, the self-inspection, an act of contrition for failure, of gratitude to God for success, and renewal of our resolution. It should conclude with a prayer to obtain the blessing of heaven on our resolution.

4. The Examination for a Good Confession.

As the immediate preparation for a good confession, the object of this examination of conscience is to discover the actual sins we may have committed since our last worthy confession. In daily life pious souls are often over-scrupulous about this examination, while negligent souls are inclined to be positively lax in determining the time and attention which they should devote to it.

Let us therefore see (1) what is essential, (2) what is advisable, (3) and what should be avoided in this examination.

As mortal sins alone must be confessed, it is essential that the penitent use ordinary care, or make a serious effort, to find out his mortal sins, including their number and the circumstances which change their nature. It is even advisable, when a penitent has a mortal sin to confess, to confine both his examination and his accusation to mortal sins, as this will emphasize his sorrow and purpose of amendment. In regard to venial sins it must be borne in mind (1) that there is no obligation to confess them as they may be forgiven by an act of contrition; (2) that it leads to delusion to confess them without sorrow or purpose of amendment; (3) that it is advisable, therefore, to examine ourselves on the more deliberate venial sins which we intend to confess, and for which we are truly sorry. Mere imperfections, however, are not a matter for absolution, and should, therefore, not be sought in this examination.

In conclusion it may be well to remark, that, though sorrow and purpose of amendment are always pleasing to God, a morose inspection of our past is apt to delude the mind and excite self-commiseration, or lead to discouragement, instead of having a purifying effect on the heart.

6. Sinful Actions

Sinful actions must be the first object of our self-examination. They may be venial or mortal according as they are a deliberate transgression of the law of God in a slight or in a grievous matter. Venial sins lessen the fervor of the love of God in our hearts, make us less worthy of His grace, and make us deserving of temporal punishment.

The effects of mortal sin on the soul are: (1) the privation of sanctifying grace; (2) the loss of all past merits and even the power of meriting while in sin; (3) remorse of conscience; (4) the enmity of God; (5) the penalty of eternal damnation.

Some mortal sins are called sins against the Holy Ghost because they abuse the means of salvation. They are presumption, despair, impugning the known truth, envy of a neighbor's spiritual progress, obstinacy, and final impenitence.

Some mortal sins provoke God in a special manner and are called sins crying to heaven for vengeance. They are homicide, sodomy, oppressing the poor, and defrauding the laborer of his hire. Some sins fill the soul with ignorance, malice, and concupiscence, and thereby incite man to other sins. For this reason they are called Capital Sins. They are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, anger, and sloth.

6. Bad Habits.

Bad habits are sinful inclinations developed by repeated acts.

When deliberately contracted with knowledge of their malice, bad habits are sinful from the beginning, and they and their acts subjects for confession. But when they grow on one without any bad will on one's part, they certainly are subjects for serious examination and correction, as soon as one learns their evil nature and tendency.

Bad habits produce a twofold evil effect on the soul: (1) they facilitate the commission of sin without distracting the mind from other things; (2) and cause a routine of action which is not necessarily dependent on the influence of the will.

As soon as we realize the evil tendency of a sinful habit it becomes our duty to oppose and eradicate it. In fact, only in this way can we give evidence of our good will, for the Savior says: ''By their fruits you shall know them" (Matt. vii. 16).

7. The Predominant Fault

Human nature is selfish and manifests its inordinate self-love in every individual by a tendency to some particular vice. This tendency or special inclination is called that per- son's predominant passion. When this passion shapes one's action, the result is called that one's predominant fault. If unchecked this fault will be repeated until it blinds its victim to his condition, vitiates his character, and hurries him into many excesses.

As the predominant fault always tends to one of the seven capital sins the saints were right in calling it man's worst foe. On this account St. Alphonsus wisely directs us, in conquering our faults, not to fix our attention on some minor fault, but to concentrate all our efforts on the predominant one as the root of all the rest. We may do this in a way most conducive to our progress by making the predominant fault the subject of our particular examination and by humbly making it a matter of confession.

8. Human Imperfections.

An imperfection may be defined (1) as an act or omission opposed to a mere counsel; (2) as the material transgression of a commandment, that is, as an action which was entirely indeliberate and involuntary both in itself and in its cause, as involuntary distractions in prayer. As counsels do not bind in conscience, and, as actions in general must be deliberate and voluntary to be morally good or bad, an imperfection is no sin in either case.

Though imperfections are not matter for confession, they become matter for self-examination, spiritual direction, and amendment. As indications of our spiritual deficiency they should incite us to vigilance, mortification, and prayer.

9. Idiosyncrasies.

Idiosyncrasies are those peculiarities of temperament and character which differentiate the personality of individuals. They may be divided into three classes: (1) traits which constitute the charm of one's personality; (2) peculiarities, chiefly defects of temperament or character which have not yet been eradicated; (3) hobbies, or innocent peculiarities which an individual has specially developed. Idiosyncrasies of the first kind necessarily enter into every Christian character. Those of the second kind are found in the imperfect, while those of the third kind may be found alike in the sinner and in the saint, but not in the personalities of Jesus and Mary, who alone did the will of God perfectly in all things.

10. The Delusions of Wrong Principles

By the delusion of a wrong principle we mean the self-deception which we practice by acting on an erroneous principle which we consider true. We may develop this principle as the result of an erroneous judgment of our own, though we are usually inoculated with its germ in our intercourse with others. Wrong principles are as numerous as the vain pursuits of the world, and naturally lead to one of the following delusions: (1) by magnifying the material they belittle the spiritual order; (2) by emphasizing the temporal they obscure the true perspective of the eternal; (3) by lauding the dignity of man they lower the dignity of God; (4) by championing the liberty of man they rob him of his liberty as a child of God; (5) by emancipating him from subjection to his Maker they degrade him to the slavery of the flesh, the world, and the devil; (6) by extolling the pleasures of earth they belittle the joys of heaven; (7) by laying up treasures that perish they neglect the treasures of grace and merit; (8) by seeking the honors of earth they forfeit the glory of the angels and saints; (9) by fearing the opinions of men they incur the anger of the Almighty; (10) by seeking their heaven on earth they make sure of the torments of hell.
11. The Delusions of Self-Love.

When self-deception is caused by the prompting of our corrupt nature it is called a delusion of self-love. The delusions of self-love are not easily discovered or eradicated, because (1) they are more subtle than the delusions of wrong principles; (2) they enter more intimately into our interior lives; (3) and are more effectually shielded by self-love.

The delusions of self-love prompt us (1) to be good to ourselves; (2) to seek our ease and comfort; (3) to keep ourselves from labor and suffering; (4) to minister to our gratifications. They lead us (1) to mistake the vain desire of virtue for actual progress; (2) to mistake passion for virtue; (3) to over-estimate our merit and entitle us to exemption and consideration; (4) and to underrate the value of others. When not discovered and checked in time the delusions of self-love will lead us (1) to relax our vigilance and prayer; (2) to give the credit to ourselves which belongs to God; (3) to be oversecure in temptation and wantonly to enter the occasion of sin. For these reasons the masters of the spiritual life exhort us often to make ourselves the subject of our meditations. In fact the Savior warns us to ''watch and pray lest we fall into temptation.”

12. Ambition.

In the days of the ancient Roman republic the word "Ambition” was used in the sense of legitimate electioneering, or lawful canvassing for votes. Since then it has come to stand for any desire and willingness to do great things. On this account timid souls are apt to confound it with presumption and the pursuit of vainglory, while the slothful are apt to point to its absence as an evidence of their trust in Providence and a justification of their laziness.

God has implanted ambition in human nature that we may strive to do His holy will in all things. Hence, when enlightened by faith, prompted by charity, and directed by obedience, ambition becomes true zeal for the glory of God and the welfare of souls. It prompts us to spare neither labor nor sacrifice, but to press forward in close imitation of the Master, and, with the help of His grace, to do the will of the heavenly Father in all things. On the other hand, when perverted by self-love, ambition prompts us to offend against charity and justice, to rebel against lawful authority, and even to follow the example of Lucifer himself.

As earth is a place of exertion and endurance, let us see to it that we have the ambition to save and sanctify our souls according to the plan of the Almighty. Then, putting our hope of success entirely in God, we may confidently say with St. Paul: “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me'' (Phil, iv, 13).

13. Self-Will.

By the corruption of human nature through original sin the will of man has been weakened and brought into opposition to the will of God. The personal opposition of an individual to the will of God is expressed by self-will. If we follow the promptings of self-will we may have the satisfaction of doing our own will, but we thereby forfeit all claim to a reward in heaven. Hence the beginning of the spiritual life consists in conquering our self-will, and its perfection in doing the will of God in all things. In proportion as we grasp this truth and use it as the rule of our lives, will we be encouraged by our divine Model, who says: "I do always the things that please Him'' (John viii. 29).

14. Sensuality.

Sensuality is the tyranny of the flesh over the spirit. As intended by God man should be guided by reason in ministering to his temporal wants. By the corruption of his nature, how- ever, not only was man's mind darkened and his will weakened, but his inferior faculties were perverted and his bodily members condemned to decay and death.

This perversion inclines man's carnal nature to rebel against the dictates of reason, and to throw off the dominion of the will. In pro- portion as he yields man becomes the slave of his sensual nature. This slavery is called sensuality because it pampers the senses, though in reality it consists in pandering to the abnormal cravings of the vegetative faculties through the senses. For, without the craving of hunger, thirst, and sex, the glutton, the drunkard, and the impure would be rare indeed, while there would be little incentive to abuse the senses of taste and touch.

In man's present condition, however, he has to fear sensuality more than any other perverse influence, (1) because comparatively few exert themselves to a degree requisite to clarify their minds and strengthen their wills sufficiently to exercise dominion over all their actions; (2) because man's inferior faculties are the most difficult to subdue and to keep under control; (3) because of the craving in man for an endless possession of an infinite good. This craving, which prompts all man's actions, is perverted and intensified, but never satisfied by sensuality. Hence, the lower the sensualist falls, the greater his misery, the shorter his life, and the more terrible his eventual despair and remorse in hell.

15. Peculiarities of the Cross

The Cross embraces all the contradictions, trials, and sufferings of life. The peculiarities of the Cross are its inalienable characteristics. Some of these characteristics deserve our special attention.                                                                                                                                                                                          

(1) The Cross intended for us by God is really light when borne in conformity with the divine will. Our imagination may magnify it, our self-love seek to escape it in spite of the fact that the Eternal Truth has said: "My yoke is sweet, and my burden light" (Matt. xi. 30).

(2) The Cross is our earthly burden, which we cannot lay aside. ''They that fear the hoar frost,'' says holy Job, "the snow shall fall upon them" (Job vi. 16).

(3) The Cross is an evidence of God's love; the higher our place is to be in heaven, the greater must be our Cross on earth. "Whom the Lord loveth, he chastiseth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb. xii. 6).

(4) The Cross is proportioned to our strength. For God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able" (1 Cor. x. 13).

(5) The Cross passes quickly, and, as the darkest cloud has always the brightest lining, so the heaviest Cross is the harbinger of the greatest blessing.

(6) The Cross, when faithfully borne through life, evolves into the Cross of heaven, but, when borne only through compulsion, distils the bitterest poison of hell.

16. Man’s Limitations

Man's limitations are those circumstances of his earthly pilgrimage which confine his efforts within the plan of God. To ensure our fidelity it is well to keep them in mind. They are life, talents, opportunity, and grace.

(1) Life is our activity on earth. It comes from God, and will end when God wills. It is the first loan we receive from God, and of which we shall have to render a strict account on the day of judgment. As holy Job says, “the life of man upon earth is a warfare." We cannot remain neutral; we must enter the conflict. Shall we fight the battles of the Lord against the flesh, the world, and the devil, or shall we rebel against the Lord of majesty, our loving Benefactor, and truest Friend? Ah, blessed shall we be if our lives are such that it may be said to us as St. Paul said to the Colossians, "Your life is hid with Christ in God" {Col iii. 3).

 (2) Our talents are our powers of action. They are divine endowments to fit us for the position in God's plan for which He has destined us. If we correspond He will conduct us to it by the dispositions of His Providence and the voice of our superiors. It is our sacred duty to qualify for our calling, and to fill it to the best of our ability. Let us therefore bear in mind that the Master condemned the servant who neglected his talent as well as the one who misused it, and that " unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required'' (Luke xii. 48).

(3) The opportunity of serving God is given us every moment in the spiritual life. If we profit by it in the present, it will bear fruit in eternity. If we permit it to pass by it will be lost forever.

(4) Grace is offered us in superabundance to attain that perfection to which God has destined us. Every grace we use earns an increase. Every grace we neglect or abuse will not only testify against us, but will be taken from ns and given to another. If we squander the entire measure destined for our sanctification, we have no remaining hope of salvation but the privilege of prayer and of recourse to the intercession of Mary.

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