Although an examination of conscience is salutary for one’s spiritual life, many are reluctant to do it. Father Guibert likens their circumspection to that of certain physically ill people “who avoid getting to know their own true condition, in order to spare themselves the anxiety of the medical treatment which a clear knowledge of their danger would force them to undergo.”
Father Guibert remarks: “The most skilful masters of the spiritual life, and especially St. Ignatius Loyola, considering piety as a means of moral progress, have placed the examination of conscience among the most essential of the exercises of the pious life.”
“Some pious people, who have a habit of recollection and are attentive to the inner motions of their hearts, easily dispense with fixed hours of self-examination and with definite subject-matter for it. They are wrong, and deprive themselves of a great source of aid; for this general view of their conscience, without any definite point, is utterly wanting in moral effectiveness. In this vague cognizance that they take of themselves, they do not get an idea of what they are wanting in, and they do not derive from this hazy view of themselves a victorious impulse towards what is good.”
“Anyone who looks to piety for the moral strength to lead a better life should therefore settle for himself every day a time to be set apart for the examination of his conscience. It will be, at any rate, in the evening, at the hour of prayer with which the day closes.”
“Examination of conscience is only real, and brings forth fruit, on condition of having a definite object. To enter into one’s own house is well; but to be satisfied with going round it with a hasty glance is to run the risk of seeing nothing in it. To find out what is out of order, it is necessary to scour a few corners every day, sometimes one and sometimes another. How many houses, to all appearance well kept, reveal serious shortcomings if some one part of them is scanned with close and continued observation.”
Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).