A Scriptural Examination of Conscience

In Freedom and Forgiveness: A Fresh Look at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Fr. Paul Farren suggests that just as there are two great commandments, there are only two great sins – the sin of Adam and Eve and the sin of the Innkeeper – and that all other sins are a manifestation of these two. He describes the sin of Adam and Eve as wanting to be God and not allowing God to be God. The sin may be manifest in many ways, but always involves a failure to accept ourselves as the loved creation of God. Farren describes the sin of the Innkeeper as not having space for the poor and those who are in need, failing to live as a community of love, a community of people in relationship.

Thus, when we are examining our conscience, we are asking where we have failed to live the two great commandments of love – facing those times we have committed the sin of Adam and Eve (breaking the commandment to love God) and the sin of the Innkeeper (breaking the commandment to love our neighbor).

Farren further suggests we might engage in an examination of conscience using as our basis the story of the story of the rich young man in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 10:17:22). Here is the examination he suggests:

The rich young man knelt before Jesus.
Do I acknowledge Jesus in my life? Do I have space for God?
Do I seek, respect and respond to his Word?

The rich young man wanted to inherit eternal life.
Do I want to be close to Jesus always?
Do I want to do the best I can with the gift of my life?
Do I believe that I can accept the gift of heaven by the way I live on earth?

Jesus asked the rich young man did he keep the Ten Commandments?
Do I keep the Ten Commandments?
Do i realize that rather than stopping me doing things they free me to be myself?
Do I respect myself as the beautiful creation that God made me?

Jesus looked steadily at the rich young man and loved him.
Do I believe that Jesus looks at me and loves me?
Do I believe that Jesus invites me to share in his life?
Do I believe that Jesus believes in me?

Jesus told the rich young man to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor.
Do I make space for Jesus in my life through loving and caring for others?
Do I recognize the face of Jesus in those who are marginalized, disrespected, those who live in poverty and those who are vulnerable?
Do I recognize everybody in the world as my sister or brother equal in the eyes of God?

Jesus then told the rich young man to follow Jesus.
Do I believe that Jesus has a plan for my life? Do I make an effort to discover that plan? Do I trust Jesus enough to accept his plan?

The rich young man went away sad.
Do I choose the way of Jesus or do my own thing?
Do I allow God to be God in my life and do I welcome Jesus into my life?

You doubtless have other ways you engage in an examination of conscience, whether in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or otherwise. But this struck me as a helpful way of going about the process.


The Cost of Others’ Lives

I was listening to a Danielle Rose CD on the way into work yesterday, one of the disks of Mysteries, a 2-Cd set. As I was listening to Crucify Him, a song that is spoken from the perspective of the mob of Jerusalem, the line that struck me was:

Do we stay silent while the world screams out its lies? Sell your body, buy your beauty, live at the cost of others’ lives.

Specifically, the line that stuck in my head was “live at the cost of others’ lives.” In what ways do we live at the cost of others’ lives? I’m thinking it is not too difficult to find examples.

Buying fair trade goods (e.g. fair trade coffee) costs a bit more than non-fair trade coffee. But, every time we buy non-fair trade goods, aren’t we living at the cost of another’s life? Shouldn’t we be paying more if “more” means a fair price for the goods?

When we buy chocolate that is produced by the labor of children who are the victims of trafficking, aren’t we living at the cost of others’ lives?

We can all come up with examples beyond these two, but the point is broader than any specific example. We we all need to examine all of the decisions we make to ask: are there ways I am living at the cost of others’ lives? Are there ways I am not valuing the dignity of all human persons? And if so, what do I need to do to change that.

The Innkeeper and the Prick of Conscience

Did you ever wonder about characters who make only bit appearances in the Bible? What happened after the scene in which they appear? What they were thinking?

I saw an Advent play the other night, Like Winter Waiting, with script, lyrics and music by John Foley, S.J. At one point late in the play, there was a short scene in which a single character appears – the innkeeper who turns Mary and Joseph away.

All we know from St. Matthew’s Gospel is that Mary laid Jesus in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn.” So in our minds, an innkeeper turned Mary and Joseph away, and that is the end of the innkeeper as far as the Gospel narrative is concerned.

In this play, the innkeeper appears on stage and is deep in thought. She then proceeds to engage in a monologue during which she questions her decision to turn Joseph and Mary away. Of course I was right to send them away – I can’t be letting in that kind of person. But there was something in her eyes – and she was so near to her time. But there was no room – what was I to do? He looked so hopeless. Perhaps I should have offered them my bed? No – you can’t be too careful, you know and who knows what kind of people they were. But we are taught to be compassionate. And so on – trying to justify her decision, but plagued by doubts.

The scene affected me deeply. Part of it was the idea that a character we give no further thought to actually has some prior and subsequent history to that which appears to us. And it made me wonder about some other people who only have bit parts in the story of Jesus.

But I also think it was this particular dialogue that affected me, because I think her experience is not dissimilar to our own. When we do something unloving or selfish, we very much try to justify it to ourself. At the same time, if we are generally good people who try to live by Gospel values, our conscience pricks at us when we act contrary to those values.

The question is, what happens when we engage in the kind of monologue in which the innkeeper engaged? What do we say to God? And what do we learn from the experience?

Thomas More

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers and politicians, among others. More, referred to as “a man for all seasons” because of his wide scholarship and knowledge, is known by many through the play of the same name.

More, as most people know, was killed because he refused to support King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn and because he would not acknowledge Henry as the supreme head of the Church in England. For More, this was a decision of conscience on which he could not compromise.

More reminds us that there can be a high cost to discipleship and that following the demand of conscience is not always easy.

As I was thinking about More, I came across a passage from St. Paul’s letter to Timothy that could have been written with More as the model for one who follows Paul’s instruction. Paul wrote:

Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

A good description of Thomas More, who we celebrate today.