Father Geiermann suggests ten things to consider when examining one’s spiritual life: sinful actions, bad habits, one’s predominant fault, human imperfections, idiosyncrasies, delusions concerning wrong principles and self-love, ambition, self-will, and sensuality. The first three, he notes, are appropriate for mentioning during the Sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation).
“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.”
Of particular note are sins against the Holy Spirit: presumption, despair, impugning the known truth, envy of a neighbor’s spiritual progress, obstinacy, and final impenitence. These abuse the means of salvation.
Also of note are capital sins: pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, anger, and sloth. These incite one to commit other sins.
“Bad habits are sinful inclinations developed by repeated acts. When deliberately contracted with a knowledge of their malice, bad habits are sinful. . . . 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; and (2) 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.”
Concerning one’s predominant fault, Father Geiermann notes: “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 person’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.”
Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).