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Lenten examination of conscience

English Spanish Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ Profile

During Lent, the quintessential time for penitence, parishioners present themselves massively at the confessional. However, confessors notice that a deep examination of conscience is often missing.

It might help to consider the order in which the “Confiteor” (I confess), a penitential prayer at the beginning of Mass, presents the areas of sin.

That prayer mentions them in ascending order of seriousness, namely, “thought, word, deed and omission.” The most serious sin would be that of omission, but in singular and capitalized. The Omission at the root of other sins is the forgetfulness of God. When God is out of the visual field of consciousness, the doors to evil thoughts, words and deeds are opened. Anyone who lives in the presence of God is saved from the worst sins. As the verses attributed to St. Teresa of Avila say,“See that God is looking at you / see that he is watching you / see that you have to die / see that you do not know when”. Or as St. Paul taught the Athenians, in God “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17, 28).

Moral conscience is numb when it excludes God. The teaching from Vatican II states, “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.” (GS 16).

The double mortal sin that King David committed, namely adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah, is sobering. The king remained unconcerned; his conscience did not detect so much evil. God had to send the prophet Nathan to reveal to him his two horrendous sins (cf. 2 Sam 11-12).

A psalm says, “Who can detect trespasses? Cleanse me from my inadvertent sins” (Psalm 19, 13). What is hidden must become known because, as a Proverbs states, “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and forsake them obtain mercy” (Prov. 28, 13).

That is why St. Ignatius affirms that we need the grace of God to know our own sins. Hence, when the saint teaches us to examine our conscience, he uses this second step: “To ask grace to know our sins and cast them out” (EE. 43, 2). It is not enough to make the effort to remember our sins; we need a revelation from above.

Outside the Church, there are those who think that Catholics find it very easy to obtain divine forgiveness; it would be enough to go to confession. However, it is not so simple. Contrition and a purpose of amendment are needed to forgive what has been confessed.

In addition, the fact that some sins are not forgiven without reparation is often overlooked. The most mentioned is restitution in cases of theft. Let us hear the Catechism: “In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner” (No. 2412).

However, reparation is not limited to the seventh commandment. It also extends to the eighth. For example, someone who has slandered his neighbor will not receive forgiveness until he retracts the slander.

The same applies to the person who has committed or collaborated in an unfair action against another. He will not be forgiven as long as he does not do justice to the victim. The Catechism also says something about this: “Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation” (No. 2487).

There is another reparation called reconciliation. When there are disputes among brothers and communication is broken, conscience calls us to repair the breakup through reconciliation. The Lord urged it in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5, 23-24). We need to be vigilant to prevent feelings that are contrary to fraternal love to take root in our hearts. Jesus does not even want anger against others: “Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5, 21).

May the Lord help us at the start of this holy quarantine to better know our sinfulness and to repudiate it with profound contrition.

Fr. Eduardo Barrios, SJ
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