The examination of conscience is indispensable for gaining self-knowledge. Frequent confession and spiritual direction are also wonderful aids in finding our predominant faults.
We must seek to divide and conquer. Trying to root out all of our faults at once will only unsettle us and we will lose heart. It is not possible to do this anyway. Aim at only one objective at a time.
Here are some further tips:
- Take notice of sins confessed most often.
- Notice also which sins are most deliberate.
- Notice which sins cause the greatest embarrassment, or that you are least inclined to confess.
St. Frances de Sales leaves us with this insight, “Our examination of conscience must be reduced to a search for our passions. A general examination of sins is for the confessions of those who are not trying to advance. Rather, we should seek to know as to what affections are a hindrance to our heart; what passions are in possession of it, in what does it chiefly go astray? For it is by the passions of the soul that one gets to know one’s state, by probing them one after the other.” An analogy may help: we could stop the water from coming out of a lawn sprinkler by trying to plug up each little hole, or we can turn it off at its source.
Sometimes, after working on a fault, we make a little progress and the fault seems to regress, while another suddenly appears with grand fashion! When this happens, holy writers suggest that we should then turn our attention to that newest fault. It is like pulling weeds; we may work long and hard on one weed with deep roots, but in so doing, we may uproot others along the way. With Christ’s grace, we may dispossess ourselves of two faults instead of one!
Next Issue: Penance and purification: Discovering our predominant fault (final considerations).