Am I the only one who thought that the nightly examination of conscience was supposed to be a list of everything I did wrong? I always found it too daunting after a long workday, about to hit the pillow, to have to scan the day for snippy comments I made, or times I scarfed too much ice cream or failed to call my favorite aunt. So I glossed over that part in praying Night Prayer.
A retreat book set me straight. I discovered that a daily examination can begin with this question: “How has God been working in my life today?” I can do that! That’s a much easier question!
St. Catherine of Siena wrote that the purpose of our memory is to contemplate the good things God has done for us. She’s talking about gratitude. A study at the University of California measuring stress levels of college students showed 28% less stress in those who wrote down things they were grateful for every day.
If we start our examination with gratitude for specific ways God has worked in our day (thank you, God, that I had the right words for the co-worker whose mother just died), then the things I could have done better appear by themselves (I could have called my aunt instead of surfing Facebook yet again).
At end-of-day we can more easily see the things that God has smoothed out—and the times we resisted His grace, which helps us do better next time. And our examination gives us a ready-made reference for our next confession — and what we can focus on improving tomorrow. And the examination doesn’t have to happen at the end of the day when we’re tired. We can do it any time.
The purpose of the examination of conscience is to grow spiritually. And spiritual growth means growing in virtue—being closer to Jesus. A grateful reflection at any time of day on what God has done for us and how we might have responded more fully is a great way to examine our soul in the full light of God’s generous love and his inexhaustible mercy.