How to Prepare for Confession

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Individual Preparation for Confession The awareness of our sins and their full effects, the awareness of the depth of God’s yearning that we turn from sin and be forgiven, the actual sorrowful sacramental sharing of our sins with a priest, and the full understanding of what God’s mercy entails; none of these are easy - due to our fallen human nature - and yet each is a blessing beyond measure. These graces, which begin with our asking God for true memory and real hope, renew and free our lives. Thank you for undertaking this journey. This leaflet introduces guides and ways from our Catholic Tradition which may help the penitent. Different methods of conscience examination are discussed, followed by a simple guide to help celebrate the sacrament thoughtfully, reverently and joyfully.

Ways to examine your conscience Four of the most-used methods of conscience examination are given here. Try the one which appears to you to be fruitful. Over the course of time you may wish to try different ones.

This leaflet will introduce you to: • Four ways of preparing for Confession • The importance of examining our conscience • How to make a good confession.


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1. The “Examen” of St Ignatius This is a popular way of looking at our lives in the light of God’s grace through gratitude. It is based on the truth that God’s graces are ever-flowing. The normal Christian response to these graces is gratitude. Where the “music” of God’s grace doesn’t meet with the “echo” of our gratitude then we can look to see if sin is preventing this. In March 1542 St Ignatius of Loyola wrote a letter in which he concluded that ingratitude to God is the root of evil and sin. He said that it is a failure to recognize the good things, the graces and the gifts received. As such, it is the cause, beginning and origin of all evils and sins. He also said that its opposite, gratitude, which recognises good things received, is esteemed both on earth and in heaven. Some twenty years earlier in his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius had proposed that we are created to praise, reverence and serve God, thereby saving our soul (Ex. 23). We are to desire these things for which we were created. He proposed a daily particular examination of conscience (Ex. 24-31) in which he recommended thrice a day reflection on one’s life - practiced on getting up, after lunch and after supper, comparing the results at each stage with those of previous reflections.

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give thanks

Five Stages Slightly later (Ex. 43) Ignatius outlines five stages of making the general Examen. Why not reflect on these in your own life: 1. Give thanks to our Lord God for favours received. 2. Ask for the grace to know and root out your sins. 3. Demand of your conscience an hourly or periodic account, beginning with the moment of getting up until this examination, first as to thoughts; then to words; and then to actions. 4. Ask pardon of the Lord for these faults. 5. Resolve, with the grace of God, to do better. End with an “Our Father”. 4

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The Examen in Practice: Spend 2 minutes on each of the above (1-5), looking at today’s blessings and faults in your life, then spend a further few minutes reflecting on the time since your last confession. In modern versions the five “Examen” steps are sometimes given as: 1. Become aware of God’s presence. 2. Review the day with gratitude. 3. Pay attention to your emotions. 4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. 5. Look toward tomorrow. The “Examen” includes within it a way of examining conscience, but it is so much more than a means to become aware of personal sin. It helps us to orient our life. It does this first by reminding me of my life’s purpose, and secondly by having “blessings and goodness” as its central focus. The book of Genesis reminds us that God created everything good. It is essential that we understand our sins not as something substantial or important in their own right, but rather as either “corruption” of that which God created good or turning away from the goodness of the creator. In this way realisation of sin always prompts us to search for and cherish the former godly goodness, the truth, the beauty of authentic human life in God’s image and of our world and to grow in praise and thanks to God.

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2. Using Scripture Reflections St Isidore of Seville (d. 630 A.D.) was a great enthusiast of using scripture to accompany and become part of prayer. His key understanding is that when we pray we talk to God; when we hear or read the scriptures God talks to us. When prayerful reading of scripture is used in conscience examination we ask that a double revelation (or a mutual selfrevelation) may take place. God reveals himself, his goodness, his qualities to me and when reflecting on them I recognise my own sin and so reveal the real “tarnished me” to myself and to God. I recognise myself truly created in his image but also see that this image is somewhat corrupted in me by sin. We may fruitfully take a passage of scripture which talks about qualities we find in God and compare those to our own lives. A good example of this is St Paul’s hymn to love in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Co 13:1-13). A part of this runs as follows:

Love is patient and kind; Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Try reading slowly through this passage twice. • On the second reading where you see the red words Love or it substitute your own name instead. • What inconsistencies does this show? 6

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Continue with the next part of the scripture text:

... as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child; when I became a man I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. How is your life still immature in love? Or distracted by other attributes which try to claim deeper attention than love itself? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1454 and footnote 53) recommends the use of such scripture reflection in conscience examination. The following are suggested for this purpose: Mt 5-7; Rm 12-15; 1 Co 12-13; Ga 5; Ep 4-6, in addition to the Ten Commandments (Ex 20/Dt 5). These are long passages and I suggest taking only a paragraph for conscience examination at any one time. This gives a choice of approximately thirty passages - enough for a different one each day of the month. N.B. This is not an exclusive list, for example Pope Francis has said that a good text for conscience examination is Mt 25.

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Whichever text of scripture is used in conscience examination, seven steps are recommended: 1. I slowly read the text several times. 2. I remind myself that God calls me to live in his love. I reflect on the text and on my love. How have I responded to God’s grace? 3. I ask for the grace to see my life clearly, thoughts, words, actions and omissions, both good and bad. I ask to see my life as God sees it. 4. I reflect on the vision, the truth, the virtues shown in the text and ask God to show me my life in response to these. 5. If there are images in the text which aren’t directly relevant to my life (for example if part of the text is on married life and I am single) then I ask God to show me a parallel circumstance in my life which will benefit from this reflection. 6. I imagine how I could love God better and ask for help for me to do so in future. 7. I take my sins to Jesus, placing them at the foot of the cross and I make an act of contrition. Follow this sequence either with the passage from 1 Co, or with the scripture passage of your choice today.


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3. Using the Commandments & other precepts “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Jn 14:15 Psalm 18[19] contains some beautiful phrases about God’s commands and precepts: “The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul.” “The precepts of the Lord are right; they gladden the heart.” “The decrees of the Lord are truth and all of them just. They are more to be desired than gold, than the purest of gold and sweeter are they than honey, than honey from the comb.” “In them your servant finds instruction. Great reward is in their keeping.” For God’s chosen people in times of old, the clearest way they knew him and his will was through the books of the Law (the first five books of the bible). For us, we are blessed with the fullness of God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus, but commandments and precepts are still always much-needed anchors to inform us of right and wrong. Using such lists is often a great help.

Examining my conscience using a list of precepts or prompts • Pray for God’s help. • Review your life with the help of the given prompts. • Tell God you are sorry for your sins. • Make a firm resolution not to sin again.

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examination of conscience


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The Ten Commandments (Ex 20 and Dt 5) 1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me. 2. You shall not take the name of the lord your God in vain. 3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day. 4. Honour your father and your mother. 5. You shall not kill. 6. You shall not commit adultery 7. You shall not steal 8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. 9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. 10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.

A Typical Short Examination of Conscience Prayerfully ask discernment as to what you have done, said, planned, or omitted with full or partial knowledge and consent against God’s and the Church’s commandments. • Do I pray every day? Have I thanked God for His gifts? • Did I put my faith in danger through being over-influenced by consumerism, or fashion, or other religions or superstitious practices: for example fortune-telling? • Did I take the name of God in vain? Did I curse? Did I take an oath and not keep it?

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• Did I miss Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation through my own fault? Am I attentive at Mass? Did I keep fast and abstinence days? • Did I disobey my parents and superiors? • Did I hate or quarrel with anyone, or desire revenge? Did I refuse to forgive? Was I disrespectful? • Did I get drunk? Did I take illicit drugs? • Did I wilfully look at pornography, entertain impure thoughts or engage in impure conversations or actions? Did I use artificial means to prevent conception? • Was I unfaithful to my spouse? Did I engage in sexual activity outside of marriage or look to do so? • Did I steal or damage another’s property? Have I been honest and just? • Have I responded to the needs of the poor and respected the dignity of others? • Did I tell lies? Did I sin harming others’ good name? Did I judge others harshly? • Have I envied others? Such lists are never exhaustive. Sometimes awareness of our culture focuses on further items, for example Pope Francis asks parents if they give enough time to playing with their children, and asks us all if we’ve harmed the environment by being wasteful of the world’s resources. There are many other examinations of conscience available. See Further Reading. 12

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4. Discernment of Spirits and “Deadly” Sins In the year 590 AD or thereabouts St Gregory the Great named what we sometimes call the seven deadly sins. His list had previous history in monk’s writings as vices, evil passions or promptings of evil spirits. He saw each one giving rise to many different expressions. Gregory understood them as corruption of what is good, for example Gregory suggested arrogance rises from learning, cruelty from justice, carelessness from tenderness, anger from zeal, laziness from gentleness, etc. What are the seven deadly sins? They are Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Greed. Is there a cure or a way to fight them? The writer Prudentius in 410 AD suggested that each had its cure. In his writings he saw them as vices, cured by opposing virtues:

Humility cures Pride, Kindness cures Envy, Abstinence cures Gluttony, Chastity cures Lust, Patience cures Anger, Generosity cures Greed, Diligence cures Sloth. Early Christian writings saw them as spirits or images able to attract us, despite them not leading us to what is good. The earliest writings speak of good spirits which suggest virtue to us and evil spirits which suggest vices/sins. This reflects scriptures which portray sin as coming from the entrance of an evil spirit into our heart or mind (e.g. Jn 13:27 and Lk 22:3 where Satan is described as “entering” Judas, who immediately then betrayed Jesus).

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Basic Examination of Conscience Step 1: I reflect on my life, my plans, images or ideas which have seemed attractive or seem to promise energy. I then honestly try to discern if they lead to good (by considering virtues) or away from good (by considering vices). The absence of virtues can often flag up where a vice is having an effect in my life.

Step 2: Beyond this I look to see if I have entertained harmful thoughts to the extent that I have allowed daydreams of “where they might lead” to entice me.

Step 3: Now imagine an evil spirit, for example a spirit of jealousy, of untruth, of arrogance or some other vice. If I haven’t succumbed to such spirits myself, have I cooperated with them to bring about these vices in others? For example have I knowingly and willingly prompted others to jealousy, to fib, or to react in arrogance by my words, attitudes, omissions and actions? (The evil spirit still “succeeds” through me even though I have not been jealous/ sinned by other vices myself - I have provoked another to bring about an evil.) Reflecting on my life in these ways can often show up sins which other methods don’t.


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Individual Confession If you are unsure of what to do here is a reminder. 1: Say to the priest: ‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned’. Then tell him roughly how long it is since your last confession. 2: Say: ‘These are my sins’ and explain simply the sins you are aware of from your examination of conscience. 3: Say: For these and all the sins I cannot remember I am very sorry. 4: Listen as the priest gives advice and a penance (to be carried out soon after the confession). 5: When prompted by the priest, say an act of contrition: (for example): O My God I am sorry that I have sinned against you and with the help of your grace I will not sin again. 6: Listen as he says the words of absolution and the dismissal. 7: Leave the confessional space, carry out your penance, and rejoice! The words of a longer act of contrition may help us to realise more deeply the reality of our sin and the wonder of God’s forgiveness. “O my God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins, and detest them above all things, because they deserve your dreadful punishments, because they have crucified my loving Saviour Jesus Christ, and, most of all, because they offend your infinite goodness; and I firmly resolve, by the help of your grace, never to offend you again, and carefully to avoid the occasions of sin.”

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“Everyone should leave the confessional with happiness in their hearts and a face radiant with hope even if sometimes, as we all know, it is bathed with the tears of conversion and the joy that comes from that.” (Pope Francis)

Further Reading The Early Church • John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf • John Cassian’s “Institutes” The Spiritual Exercises and the Examen • • The Examen Prayer by Timothy M. Gallagher, Crossroad Publishing, 2006. Examinations of Conscience: • upload/Examination-of-Conscience.pdf • - then add for couples: /examination-conscience-married-couples for singles: /examination-conscience-singles for young adults: /examination-conscience-young-adults for children: /examination-conscience-children Multimedia: •

• Visit: • EAN: 506 013900 073 4 • LF77 All rights reserved. © 2016 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. 16

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