The Examination of Conscience
1. Remember the key to wisdom: "Know yourself." These words were written in Greek in golden letters on the fronton of the temple of the Delphic Apollo. They were the basic rule of the moral doctrine of Socrates and other philosophers. But if we are to know ourselves well, we must examine ourselves thoroughly. We must place ourselves before ourselves without any concealment or deception and judge ourselves fairly and severely. The examination of conscience is recommended not only by spiritual writers of the Church, but also by pagan philosophers. Seneca's famous words in this regard are worth meditating. "Anger will disappear or subside," he says, "when you know that you have to present yourself for judgment every day. Is there any finer custom than this daily examination of conscience? What peace follows from this examination of ourselves! How tranquil, wise and free the mind becomes, whether it has been praised or reproved, when it has acted as its own secret investigator and critic and has examined its own behaviour. I use this exercise and put myself on trial every day. When the lights are out and silence has fallen... I look back over the entire day and review my words and actions. I hide nothing from myself; I omit nothing. Why should I be afraid of any of my errors when I can say to myself: Take care not to do this again; this time I forgive you." (De Ira, III, 36.)
2. Pope St. Pius X holds greater authority for a Christian. In his "Exhortatio ad Clerum" he strongly recommends the examination of conscience especially at the close of the day. This examination, he says, is necessary for priests, but it is no less necessary for the laity. He recalls the apt words of St. Augustine: “Judge your own conscience. Demand an account from it. Dig deep and rend it apart. Discover all the evil thoughts and intentions of the day... and punish yourself for them.” (Expos. in Ps. 4, n.8) He also quotes the equally relevant words of St. Bernard. “Be a searching inquirer into your own integrity of life; examine your conduct every day. See how much you have advanced, or how much you have fallen back... Learn to know yourself... Place all your faults before your eyes. Stand before yourself, as if it were before somebody else, and you will find reason to weep over yourself.” (Meditat., Cap. 5 de quotidiano sui ipsius examine) The saintly Pontiff concludes his inspiring address as follows: “Experience has proved that anyone who makes a strict examination of his thoughts, words and actions, is more firmly resolved to hate and avoid what is evil and wholeheartedly to love what is good.” (Acta Pii X, IV, p. 257)
3. It is necessary and profitable, therefore, to end the day with an examination of conscience made in the presence of God. Enter into ourselves; examine our thoughts, words and actions. Examine also the motives behind our actions and see whether they have been distorted or really directed towards God. Examine the sins we have committed, so that we may beg for pardon and form resolutions to do better. See whether we have prayed fervently or distractedly and half-heartedly. See if we have co-operated with the graces and good inspirations which we have been given. See if we have improved or grown worse in our efforts to do good. See if we have been dissipated or close to God. From a close examination of this kind we shall draw an incitement to humility and repentance, as well as to greater determination in the future.