How to Examine One’s Conscience

Father Guibert outlines the process: “In an examination of conscience, the eyes of the soul will first of all look in the direction of one’s dominant fault; for there it is that the chief gaps in the moral life appear. And if some are so far ignorant of themselves as not to know what their dominant failing is, they can either watch their own disposition, of which it is usually the natural product, or else ask their spiritual director, who will quickly perceive in their habitual faults what is their most harmful tendency.”

“This principal tendency, which rules the whole of the life, is outwardly expressed in act and word, but after having aroused complex movements within. Those who are only beginning, and who are so far but little trained to catch and repress their inmost thoughts and feelings, will first of all keep watch over words and acts which afford more tangible material for examination, and over these the will has a greater hold. But with practice, attention will turn by degrees from without to within, and will discover defects to be corrected in their very source, and will suppress them before they have had time to come out into the open.”

“There is then an order to be kept in this moral strategy, the object of which is the conquest of self. If sensualism is a serious check to virtue, it must be the primary objective of our attack. As soon as the flesh has been nearly subdued, the hours of the day must be rescued from being arranged by caprice; for he who is master of his time has acquired a great amount of strength. Then will come the art, which St. James declares to be so important and so difficult, of governing one’s tongue, so that it shall not trip in uttering hurtful or inconsiderate words, such as offend against charity or good taste.”

“Whatever may be the matter of our self-examination, it must be done under the eyes of God, and in utter sincerity of soul. Piety will preside over it, either because it calls for divine enlightenment by prayer, or else because, at the end, it implores for grace and strength to overcome evil.”

“Straightforwardness, too, has its part to play, both in driving away delusions that might hide the soul’s weaknesses from the search, and to prevent dissimulation from closing the lips against making the indispensable avowals.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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