Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 10, 2003
Daily examination of conscience a step toward forgiveness
By ARCHBISHOP THOMAS COLLINS
In the sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus allows his disciples down through the ages to experience the human encounter with divine forgiveness enjoyed by the few people whom he personally forgave during his time on earth. To appreciate this sacrament of divine mercy, it is important to situate it in the context of non-sacramental forgiveness.
God is not limited to the sacraments, and we can experience forgiveness in other ways, which form a kind of frame for the sacrament of Reconciliation. Whenever we are conscious of having sinned, we should immediately ask God to forgive us, and if we have harmed another we should ask forgiveness and, if possible, try to undo any harm we may have caused.
It is spiritually valuable to make an examination of conscience at some point in each day, perhaps in the evening. Start with a prayer of trust in God, such as the Our Father. Spend some time thanking God for the blessings he has given during the day.
Then briefly but honestly review the day and note any ways in which you have sinned against God or neighbour. It is helpful to use a framework such as the Ten Commandments, the seven root sins (pride, anger, envy, greed, laziness, lust, gluttony), the seven root virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope, charity), or anything else that you find spiritually useful.
Then ask God's forgiveness, and pray for the grace to live more faithfully the next day. End with prayers of trust and thankfulness.
Throughout the day, it is good regularly to express awareness of God's mercy, perhaps through prayers such as the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is also good to do this when facing temptation, or when one is aware of having sinned.
In Christian tradition, three pathways to forgiveness are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus instructs us concerning them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-18). The importance of constant prayer is obvious, and one aspect of prayer can be the forgiveness of sins.
An important way in which we are purified of our imperfections is through the celebration of the great prayer which is the Holy Eucharist, although if we are conscious of serious sin we should receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving Holy Communion, heeding the admonition of St. Paul not to receive the Eucharist unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:27).
In fasting we grow in the disciple's virtue of discipline, realizing that for us humans it is easier to say no to immoral appetites if we have become accustomed to being able to say no to our legitimate appetites. Fasting helps us to realize our frailty and dependence upon God. It helps us to become more free.
Fasting is not the same as giving up sin; in fasting, we abstain for a spiritual reason from something that in itself is not wrong. During Lent, we often think of giving up something such as candy; but it might be more fruitful to give up something else which in fact can take over our lives, such as time spent on the computer, or watching television.
Almsgiving is the third pathway to forgiveness. When we give of our time, talent, or treasure we become accustomed to replacing the selfish heart of sin with the spirit of generosity.
Both vice and virtue are habits. Just as repetition of sinful actions can gradually cause us to be more and more firmly ensnared in the ropes of sinfulness, so also the repetition of virtuous actions helps us more freely to serve God and neighbour. The ropes that bind us gradually drop away.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are things that we do, as are an examination of conscience and an act of sorrow within the heart. God invites our active participation in the process of repentance and forgiveness. He certainly does so when we celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. Look to the Gospels: Jesus always invites a response, and expects the disciple to act. We need to be conscious, however, that it is always God's grace that moves us to repentance.
The non-sacramental ways of repentance are good in themselves, and can help us to be freed of less serious sins, and help prepare us for the experience of sacramental forgiveness. Sometimes people say: "I don't need a sacrament of Reconciliation; I ask God for forgiveness in my heart."
Certainly we, like the sinners of the Gospel, should do that. We should do it every day. But it is the will of Jesus that we, like them, are also able to receive the tangible experience of forgiveness which he has given to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
God is not limited to the sacraments, and we can experience forgiveness in other ways, which form a kind of frame for the sacrament of Reconciliation.
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