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"Preach the Gospel at All Times, If Necessary Use Words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Black Catholic Young Adult Article ~ { Print Version }
The National Black Catholic Congress

Examination of Conscience

Article I. Conscience

Section 1.01 What is the conscience?

"No matter where you stand on Earth, you can hold a compass in your hand and it will point toward the North Pole. What an unbelievably neat and amazing thing! Imagine that you are in the middle of the ocean, and you are looking all around you in every direction and all you can see is water, and it is overcast so you cannot see the sun... How in the world would you know which way to go unless you had a compass to tell you which way is "up"?" Likewise the conscience is an interior compass that leads you toward or away from God depending on the formation of the

Section 1.02 What is our duty regarding the formation of our conscience?

This current life is a journey toward Heaven or Hell. The journey to Heaven is a perilous one that requires us to work and fight to gain Heaven . Since your conscience is your compass amidst this warfare, then you had better make sure it is pointing toward God and that you follow the direction in which your properly formed conscience leads you.

Please note that we cannot have a properly formed conscience if we are in direct contradiction to the established and defined teaching of the Church.

We should learn what God teaches us through His Holy Catholic Church. How do we do this? Read the Catechism and the writings of the Doctors of the Church. Read scripture from a Catholic Bible, other Bibles are missing books that the Church has identified as divinely inspired, and read faithful interpretations of the Scripture.

We should also pray "[s]ince prayer places our intellect in the brilliance of God's light and exposes our will to the warmth of his heavenly love, nothing else so effectively purifies our intellect of ignorance and our will of depraved affections. It is a stream of holy water that flows forth and makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish and quenches the passions within our hearts."

Section 1.03 Why should we care about our conscience?

We should care about our conscience because when it is formed properly it helps us make morally acceptable choices and actions.

We are responsible for the good or evil of our freely chosen acts. Any evil, freely chosen by us, degrades who we are and cuts us off from the spiritual life God gave us at Baptism.

We are spiritually dead when we freely choose to do grave evil. Freely accepting evil and refusing to repent and to turn away from sin leads to the loss of Heaven and the gain of eternal misery. In The Dialogue by St. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church, she recounts what God the Father reveals to her about the fate of the damned. The Father says to her, "The fire of divine justice torments them the more, burning without consuming; and in their torment they feel themselves being eaten by the worm of conscience, which eats away without eating up - for the damned for all their torment cannot cease to exist. Indeed, they beg for death but cannot have it: They cannot cease to exist. By their sin they can lose the life of grace, but not their very being."

One of the principal torments of Hell is not being able to see the face of God. God the Father recounts to St. Catherine in The Dialogue, "This is so painful for them [the damned] that if they could they would choose the sight of me along with the fire and excruciating torments, rather than freedom from their pains without seeing me."

Let not the fear of the pains of Hell be the primary motivator for seeking to form your conscience properly but rather the offense we give to God, who is all good and worthy of our love. Consider all the blessings God has given to you - a healthy body, a sound mind, and all the goods provided for your good health. He has, without any need of you, created you out of love. Arouse in yourself a love of the Merciful Lord and realize that sin is a rejection of this loving God. Who would reject so good a friend and turn away from His face?

Also please know that the concepts of good and evil are not determined by our individual passions, fleeting feelings, emotions, whims, or limited human understanding, but are determined by God Himself. So it may not feel good to do what is right and it may cause you to be unpopular within the world and you may even be wrongfully labeled as uncaring or mean but what matters is God's judgment of what we do.

Section 1.04 What is an examination of conscience?

An examination of conscience consists of a detailed inspection or investigation of our actions and the interior motives for those actions as well as of our lack of action, i.e. the good I failed to do that I could have done, and the interior motives for that inaction. It also involves an investigation of our inclination or tendency to sin and the types of sin to which we have an affection.

It is helpful to confess not only our sins but also to reveal the motives for those sins as well.

Article II. Method of Examination

In addition to the Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church (see below) are good lenses through which we examine ourselves.

We should examine our actions on a daily basis. It is a common practice among members of the Church to perform an examination of conscience at night before going to sleep. The nightly examination may follow the form prescribed by St. Francis De Sales. He suggests the following:

  • Thank God for having kept you during the day.
  • Examine how you conducted yourself throughout the day by reflecting on where, with whom, and in what work you were engaged.
  • If you find you have done any good, thank God for it.
  • If you have done anything wrong in thought, word, or deed, ask God for pardon and make a resolution to go to confession at the first opportunity and make careful amendment for it.
  • Recommend to God's providence your body, soul, the Church, your relatives, and friends.

Another more detailed examination of conscience, borrowed from is listed in the section following the precepts of the Catholic Church. This examination is a good preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation.

Section 2.01 Precepts of the Catholic Church

  • (a) You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.
    • Do I know what the holy days of obligation are in the United States?
    • Have I missed Mass on Sundays or any holy day of obligation?
    • Am I busy with activities on Sunday and holy days of obligation that do not aid in the sanctification of those days?

    • Examples: inordinate amount of time playing video games or watching music videos or professional sports and little attention given in preparing for Mass and not paying attention and participating during Mass
  • (b) You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
    • Have I gone to confession within the last year?
    • Have I concealed serious sins from the priest in confession?
  • (c) You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
    • Have I received the Eucharist during the Easter season?
  • (d) You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
    • Do I know the days of fasting and abstinence?
    • Do I know what fasting is and what abstinence is with regard to food?
    • Have I fasted or abstained on these appointed days?
  • (e) You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.
    • Do I help the Church with her material needs according to my ability?

Section 2.02 The Ten Commandments

  • (a) I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
    • Did I doubt or deny that God exists?
    • Did I refuse to believe what God as revealed to us?
    • Did I believe in fortune telling, horoscopes, dreams, the occult, good-luck charms, tarot cards, palmistry, Ouija boards, séances, reincarnation?
    • Did I deny that I was Catholic?
    • Did I leave the Catholic Faith?
    • Did I give time to God each day in prayer?
    • Did I love God with my whole heart?
    • Did I despair of or presume on God's mercy?
    • Did I have false gods in my life that I gave greater attention to than God, like money, profession, drugs, TV, fame, pleasure, property, video games, music videos, sports etc.?
  • (b) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    • Have I disrespected the holiness of God or of things or persons dedicated to God?
    • Have I lied under oath or failed to keep vows made in God's sight?
    • Did I blaspheme or insult God?
    • Did I take God's name carelessly or uselessly?
    • Did I curse, or break an oath or vow?
    • Did I get angry with God?
  • (c) Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.
    • Did I miss Mass Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation through my own fault?
    • Did I come to Mass on time? Leave early?
    • Did I do work on Sunday that was not necessary?
    • Did I set aside Sunday as a day of rest and a family day?
    • Did I show reverence in the presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament?
  • (d) Honor your father and your mother.
    • Did I disobey or disrespect my parents or legitimate superiors?
    • Did I neglect my duties to my husband, wife, children or parents?
    • Did I neglect to give good religious example to my family?
    • Did I fail to actively take an interest in the religious education and formation of my children?
    • Did I fail to educate myself on the true teachings of the Church?
    • Did I give scandal by what I said or did, especially to the young?
    • Did I cause anyone to leave the faith?
    • Did I cause tension and fights in my family?
    • Did I care for my aged and infirm relatives?
    • Did I give a full day's work for a full day's pay?
    • Did I give a full day's work for a full day's pay?
    • Did I give a fair wage to my employees?
  • (e) You shall not kill.
    • Did I kill or physically injure anyone?
    • Did I have an abortion, or advise someone else to have an abortion? (One who procures
      and abortion is automatically excommunicated, as is anyone who is involved in an abortion,
      Canon 1398. The excommunication will be lifted in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)
    • Did I use or cause my spouse to use birth control pills (whether or not realizing that birth control pills do abort the fetus if and when conceived)?
    • Did I attempt suicide?
    • Did I take part in or approve of "mercy killing" (euthanasia)?
    • Did I get angry, impatient, envious, unkind, proud, revengeful, jealous, lazy, or hateful toward another?
    • Did I give bad example by drug abuse, drinking alcohol to excess, fighting, and quarreling?
    • Did I abuse my children?
  • (f) You shall not commit adultery.
    An examination usually includes the ninth commandment with the sixth.
    Note: In the area of deliberate sexual sins listed below, all are mortal sins if there is sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. "No fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites,... will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor 6:9-10) "Anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts." (Mt 5:28)
    • Did I willfully entertain impure thoughts or desires?
    • Did I use impure or suggestive words? Tell impure stories? Listen to them?
    • Did I deliberately look at impure TV, videos, plays, pictures or movies? Or deliberately read impure materials?
    • Did I commit impure acts by myself (masturbation)?
    • Did I commit impure acts with another - fornication (sex outside of marriage), adultery (sex with a married person)?
    • Did I practice artificial birth control (by pills, device, withdrawal)?
    • Did I marry or advise anyone to marry outside the Church?
    • Did I avoid the occasions of impurity?
    • Did I try to control my thoughts?
    • Did I engage in homosexual activity?
    • Did I respect all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as objects?
    • Did I or my spouse have sterilization done?
    • Did I abuse my marriage rights?
  • (g) You shall not steal.
    Examinations usually include the seventh commandment with the tenth.
    • Did I steal, cheat, help or encourage others to steal or keep stolen goods?
    • Have I made restitution for stolen goods?
    • Did I fulfill my contracts; give or accept bribes; pay my bills; rashly gamble or speculate; deprive my family of the necessities of life?
    • Did I waste time at work, school or at home?
    • Did I envy other people's families or possessions?
    • Did I make material possessions the purpose of my life?
  • (h) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    • Did I lie?
    • Did I deliberately deceive others, or injure others by lies?
    • Did I commit perjury?
    • Did I gossip or reveal others' faults or sins?
    • Did I fail to keep secret what should be confidential?
  • (i) You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
    See questions for the sixth commandment
  • (j) You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
    See questions for the seventh commandment

Article III. The Sacraments

In Scripture, Jesus confers the power to forgive sins upon the Apostles when He breathed on them. This gift of forgiveness of sins is still available through the priest. The sacrament of reconciliation revives the spiritual life that we have killed through sin. Through an examination of conscience, we can prepare ourselves for a good confession.

The sacrament of reconciliation is an example of God's great mercy and generosity. We should avail ourselves of this remedy frequently if we are serious about amending our lives and purging ourselves of mortal sin and affections for sin. Confession leads to greater knowledge of ourselves and of the situations that lead us to sin. By this knowledge, we can avoid the near occasion of sin and in the face of temptation call out to Christ to strengthen us so we do not fall.

Once properly reconciled to God and to our fellow man through the sacrament of reconciliation, we can approach the banquet table of God and receive Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the nourishment our soul needs for the journey to the eternal life in Heaven.

God the Father reveals to St. Catherine of Siena, as recounted in The Dialogue, that " When this appearance of bread has been consumed, [He] leave[s] behind the imprint of [His] grace, just as a seal that is pressed into warm wax leaves its imprint when it is lifted off. Thus does the power of this sacrament remain there in the soul; that is, the warmth of my divine charity, the mercy of the Holy Spirit, remains there. The light of my only-begotten Son's wisdom remains there, enlightening the mind's eye. The soul is left strong, sharing in my strength and power,
which make her strong and powerful against her selfish sensuality and against the devil and the world."

Who would not want to partake of this Heavenly meal?

Gloria Purvis lives in the Washington DC metro area and has worked with youth and young adults for over a decade. She has spoken to youth and young adults about the Church's teachings on sex, marriage, the family, and the sanctity of life at conferences, retreats, and live television appearances including EWTN's Life on the Rock.

  • Brain, Marshall. "How Compasses Work." 01 April 2000. Retrieved December 15,
    2008, from
  • Job 7:1, "The life of man upon earth is a warfare, and his days are like the days of a hireling."
    2 Timothy 2: 3, "Labor as a good soldier of Christ Jesus… For he also that striveth for the mastery, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
    1 Corinthians 9: 24, 25 "Know you not that they run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one."
  • Matthew 15:14, "Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind,
    both will fall into the pit."
    Luke 6: 39 "And he spoke also to them a similitude: Can the blind lead the blind? do they not both fall into
    the ditch?
  • Doctor of the Church. (n.d.) Retrieved December 15, 2008, from

    DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH: A title given since the Middle Ages to certain saints whose writing or preaching is outstanding for guiding the faithful in all periods of the Church's history. Originally the Western Fathers of the Church, Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, were considered the great doctors of the Church. But the Church has officially added many more names to the original four, including Sts. Catherine of Siena (1347-80) and Theresa of Avila (1515-82):


    • ST. ALBERT THE GREAT (1200-80). Dominican, Patron of natural scientists; called Doctor Universalis, Doctor Expertus.
    • ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI (1696-1787). Patron of confessors and moralists. Founder of the Redemptorists.
    • ST. AMBROSE (340-97). One of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. Opponent of Arianism in the West. Bishop of Milan.
    • ST. ANSELM (1033-1109). Archbishop of Canterbury. Father of Scholasticism.
    • ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA (1195-1231). Franciscan Friar. Evangelical Doctor.
    • ST. ATHANASIUS (297-373). Bishop of Alexandria. Dominant opponent of Arianism. Father of Orthodoxy.
    • ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430). Bishop of Hippo. One of the four tradition-al Doctors of the Latin Church. Doctor of Grace.
    • ST. BASIL THE GREAT (329-79). One of the Three Cappadocian Fathers. Father of monasticism in the East.
    • ST. BEDE THE VENERABLE (673-735). Benedictine priest. Father of English history.
    • ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX (1090-1153). Cistercian. Called Mellifluous Doctor because of his eloquence.
    • ST. BONAVENTURE (1217-74). Franciscan theologian. Seraphic Doctor.
    • ST. CATHERINE OF SIENA (1347-80). Mystic. Second woman Doctor.
    • ST. CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA (376-444). Patriarch. Opponent of Nestorianism. Made key contributions to Christology.
    • ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (315-87). Bishop and opponent of Arianism in the East.
    • ST. EPHRAEM SYRUS (306-73). Biblical exegete and ecclesiastical writer. Called Harp of the Holy Spirit.
    • ST. FRANCIS DE SALES (1567-1622). Bishop, leader in Counter-Reformation. Patron of Catholic writers and the Catholic press.
    • ST. GREGORY I THE GREAT (540-604). Pope. Fourth and last of the traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. Defended papal supremacy and worked for clerical and monastic reform.
    • ST. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS (330-90). Called the Christian Demosthenes because of his eloquence and, in the Eastern Church, The Theologian. One of the Three Cappadocian Fathers.
    • ST. HILARY OF POITIERS (315-68). Bishop. Called the Athanasius of the West.
    • ST. ISIDORE OF SEVILLE (560-636). Archbishop, theologian, historian. Regarded as the most learned man of his time.
    • ST. JEROME (342-420). One of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. Father of biblical science.
    • ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407). Bishop of Constantinople. Patron of preachers and called Golden-Mouthed because of his eloquence.
    • ST. JOHN DAMASCENE (675-749). Greek theologian. Called Golden Speaker because of his eloquence.
    • ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS (1542-91). Joint founder of the Discalced Carmelites. Doctor of Mystical Theology.
    • ST. LAWRENCE OF BRINDISI (1559-1619). Vigorous preacher of strong influence in the post-Reformation period.
    • ST. LEO I THE GREAT (400-61). Pope. Wrote against Nestorian and Monophysite heresies and errors of Manichaeism and Pelagianism.
    • ST. PETER CANISIUS (1521-97). Jesuit theologian. Leader in the Counter-Reformation.
    • ST. PETER CHRYSOLOGUS (400-50).Bishop of Ravenna. Called Golden-Worded.
    • ST. PETER DAMIAN (1007-72). Benedictine. Ecclesiastical and clerical reformer.
    • ST. ROBERT BELLARMINE (1542-1621).Jesuit. Defended doctrine under attack during and after the Reformation. Wrote two catechisms.
    • ST. TERESA OF AVILA (1515-82). Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic. First woman Doctor.
    • ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX (1873-1897). French Carmelite nun.
    • ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-74). Dominican philosopher and theologian. Called Angelic Doctor. Patron of Catholic schools and education.
  • De Sales, Francis. Introduction to the Devout Life. New York: Doubleday 1966
  • Siena, Catherine of. The Dialogue. New York: Paulist Press 1980.
    "Only the scar remains of that original sin as you contract it from your father and mother when you are conceived by them. And even this scar is lifted from the soul – though not completely – in holy baptism, for baptism has power to communicate the life of grace in virtue of this glorious and precious blood. As soon as the soul has received holy baptism, original sin is taken from her and grace is poured in. The inclination to sin, which is the trace that remains from original sin, is a weakness as I have said, but the soul can keep it in check if she will." Page 52
  • Acts of the Apostles 4: 18-20 "And calling them, they charged them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answering, said to them: If it be just in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

    1 Thessalonians 2: 4-6, "But as we were approved by God that the gospel should be committed to us: even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who proveth our hearts. For neither have we used, at any time, the speech of flattery, as you know; nor taken an occasion of covetousness, God is witness: Nor sought we glory of men, neither of you, nor of others."

    Luke 12: 4-5 "And I say to you, my friends: Be not afraid of them who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you shall fear: fear ye him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say to you, fear him."

  • Holy Days of Obligation (n.d) Retrieved December 15, 2008, from

    "On December 13, 1991 the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of American made the following general decree concerning holy days of obligation for Latin rite Catholics:

    In addition to Sunday, the days to be observed as holy days of obligation in the Latin Rite dioceses of the United States of America, in conformity with canon 1246, are as follows:

    1. January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
    2. Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension
    3. August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    4. November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
    5. December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
    6. December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ [list numbers are not in original]

    Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

    This decree of the Conference of Bishops was approved and confirmed by the Apostolic See by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops (Prot. N. 296/84), signed by Bernardin Cardinal Gantin, prefect of the Congregation, and dated July 4, 1992.

    It should be noted that the Ascension is celebrated on Sunday in many dioceses of the US (in accordance with a decision to allow this transfer), reducing the practical number to 5 in many places.

    Eastern Churches sui iuris

    In the Eastern Catholic Churches, besides Sunday, the following are Holy Days: Christmas, Epiphany (Jan. 6), Ascension, Dormition (Aug. 15) and Apostles Peter and Paul (Jun. 29). Like the Code of Canon Law, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches provides that each Eastern Church may have particular law Holy Days and also, with the approval of the Holy See, suppress some on the universal list.

  • Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. "Directory?on Popular Piety and the Liturgy?Principles and Guidelines", December 2001. Retrieved December 16, 2008 from
    The Easter Season begins on Easter Sunday (vigil) and ends on Pentecost.
  • Code of Canon Law Chapter II Days of Penance. (n.d.) Retrieved December 15, 2008, from

    Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

    Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the
    season of Lent.

    Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

    Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence
    as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or
    in part, for abstinence and fast.

    National Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence" November 18, 1966.

    "24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in hopes that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law."

    Stapp, Mike. "More about Fasting and Abstinence" (n.d.) Retrieved December 15, 2008, from

    "Abstinence means not eating meat (fish is not considered meat in this case). All Catholics 14 and older are required to observe abstinence on these days:

    • Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), and all Fridays in Lent.
    • Outside the U.S., this is required on all Fridays of the year, in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday.
    • In the U.S., it is still strongly recommended to observe Friday abstinence outside of Lent, but Catholics may choose to substitute another penitential practice or act of charity for these days.

    All Catholics age 18 to 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday."

  • Fasting is reducing the amount of food you eat below normal levels. Specifically, on fast days you may eat one full meal and two smaller meals, but those two smaller together should not exceed the amount of the normal meal. Snacking is also prohibited on fast days.
  • The Ten Commandments. (n.d.), Retrieved December 16, 2006 from
  • Matthew 20:22-23 "When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained."
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