Examination of Conscience

I remember the first time I ever went to Confession.  It was called Confession then.  It was one of the Sacraments of Initiation (I didn’t know that then) but it was right before I made my First Communion.  It was during the week, after Mass.  I went to a Catholic grade school and this was what we did, right before we made our First Communion.  I couldn’t wrap my arms around the fact that all the years I had lived, I mean I was 7 at this point, that none of those sins mattered before now because I didn’t know that they were sins.  That really didn’t make sense to me because I remember wholeheartedly that I knew some of the things that I had done were wrong, so how could they not have been sins last week but next week they would be sins.  I mean, I knew fighting with my sister or brother was wrong.  I got spankings for doing it.  I knew that saying bad words was wrong because I got my mouth washed out with soap.  So how could they not be sins, and then they were?  I was a rather stubborn child and I wanted to understand.  I found out later that being stubborn was a sin.  But I was scared to death sitting in that church pew waiting for my time to go into the confessional.  It would have been smart for the teacher to have let us go in there beforehand and explore because I was so intrigued with the kneeler that clicked the light on when I knelt down and clicked the light off when I got up.  That light told us that someone was in that confessional.  I really wanted to know how that worked.  Of course, our parish priest was a large man with a booming voice so we could all hear everything he was saying to our classmates.  That made us even more afraid.
I don’t think I ever got over my fear of the confessional.  Through the years we went to Confession at school.  I knew my mother went weekly or bi-weekly but she didn’t make us go with her unless we wanted to.  I wish I had done that more often.  But I think the Sacrament was so special to Mom that she appreciated being able to go by herself.  But all through school we went, first to Confession, then to Penance, then to Reconciliation.  They kept changing the name of the Sacrament I think to encourage more people to go.  Probably a lot of people were like me, and afraid to go, so renaming the Sacrament made it cool.  The Church was looking for cool back in the 1970’s.  When I was an adult it took the name of Reconciliation since that sort of went with the times.  I guess it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you do it.
Which takes me back to my fear of the confessional.  I remember a time in my life, when I wasn’t really that good of a person.  I mean, I wasn’t a bad person.  I didn’t kill anyone.  But I know that I was a Sinner with a capital S.  I knew that if I went to Confession that I would be forgiven of every sin I had committed, those with a capital S and those with a small s.  I knew that.  I believed that.  But I was afraid.  I was afraid of that priest.  I mean, it didn’t matter who the priest was, letting him know about my shortcomings and my wrongdoings was what I was afraid of.  I never wanted any other person to know some of that stuff.  And remember, I never killed anyone.  I might have wanted to, but I never did it.  Anyway, I made up my mind that I didn’t need confession.  I made up my mind that I would take my sins straight to the top.  I made up my mind that if God was going to forgive me he was going to forgive me whether I told a designated priest or not.  I believed that.  And I still do.  The problem was, I didn’t believe that.  Do I believe that God is all forgiving?  Yes, I know that to be true.  But I also was taught that unless I got that sin out of my conscience that I would continue to carry that sin with me and even though I believed that God would forgive me I don’t think that I ever forgave me.  And that’s a sin too.  So, I was in another town on business.  I was close to a Catholic church.  And I saw that they had daily confessions.  I don’t know what possessed me to go into that confessional other than the fact that I didn’t know that priest and he didn’t know me.  That poor man.  I unloaded everything I could and I asked for forgiveness.  Now these were some sins that I had already asked God to forgive me but it took that act to truly believe that I was forgiven of those sins, and I forgave myself for those sins.
I truly believe that once a semi-practicing Catholic has kids then they become this uber-practicing Catholic.  I like to think that it was my kids who forced me to become the Catholic Christian I am today.  And if you truly are an example to your kids, you’ve got to do it right.  So, I am no longer afraid of the confessional.  That doesn’t mean that I run the door down to church on Saturday afternoon to be absolved of all my sins.  I should.  I would probably be happier in my life.  I do make sure that I go to Confession.  I’m just not great at going all the time.  I remember when Communal Penance came out.  My whole family would go to church that night, including my dad.  Through the years it has been done differently but there was a time it was truly an event.  And it was easy.  You didn’t really have to think.  You just had to put that little catch-all phrase at the end, “and anything else that I may have done”.  I love that phrase.  Because I’m forgetful.  I could have a list a mile long and my turn would come along and by gosh I couldn’t remember one thing.  Okay, I could remember one thing.  But my list would leave my head.  So “and anything else that I may have done” always worked for me.  Until I started thinking about it.
We teach our kids the 10 Commandments.  And any and all sin that we commit can be identified by a good examination of conscience considering the 10 Commandments.  So, that’s what I have started to do.  What Commandment did I just break?  But being the forgetful person I am I have started listing these in my Notes on my IPhone.  Go ahead and laugh.  But it’s a good place to jot something down real quick.  Because by the time I get to the confessional I will have forgotten all about trash talking that girl at Walmart who cut in front of me in line.  I will have forgotten that grudge I was holding against those guys for what they said about me.
But I will tell you that I have discovered this great Catholic app that I use for a lot of things.  It’s called Laudate and it has Daily Readings and the Saint of the Day.  It has prayers and the rosary (in pod-cast form) and stations of the cross.  It even has Latin prayers.  But my most favorite part of the app right now is on Confession.  It has a section for children, young adults, single people, married people.  It has a daily examination of conscience.  Can you imagine on a daily basis figuring out what you did wrong so that tomorrow you don’t make the same mistake?  So when I am perusing this app I can find all kinds of things I need to think about.  When you click on a section, it gives you a little prayer to say before you proceed.  So cool.  In the section I go to there are subsections and they ask you questions:  Have I prayed every day?  Have I read the Bible?  Those are responsibilities to God.  Have I told my spouse that I love him?  Have I listened to my spouse?  Those are responsibilities to my my spouse.  Have I prayed for my children?  Have I been affectionate toward them?  Those are responsibilities to my children.  Have I avoided theft and lies?  Have I paid my taxes?  Those are responsibilities to society.  Is that not cool?  It could probably take an hour or so to go through all of them.  But isn’t that a good time frame to spend before going to Confession?  I mean, I’m all about it after it’s over.  I plan to become all about it before I go.
The Catholic Church is very specific in some things, and not the least specific in others.  I think even in Confession they are very specific but when it comes down to the nitty gritty they are not specific at all.  That’s why I think a good examination of conscience helps you to stay right with the Church but also right with yourself.  It’s good to take inventory every once in awhile.  Even if you don’t do anything with it, it’s good to know where you stand, in your own heart, in your own soul.  It’s nice to have something to work from to make it easier to participate in the Sacrament.  Don’t we owe that to ourselves?  I know that I do.
Cynthia Elder
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Louisville – where I made my first confession –

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