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In a recent homily at his parish in Irvine, California, Father Joe Horn gave some great advice.
“Please, make a daily examination of conscience,” he said, “not by going into the dark place of your sins and thinking about how horrible you are, but rather by stepping outside into the glorious light of the Son of God and thinking about how awesome he is so that you can see your spiritual shadows more clearly.”
Our sins, he says, are the times in our life where we block the bright blessings of God; sins are the spiritual shadows we cast.
His advice: “Think about the various events of the day, see in your mind’s eye all the many ways that the Father’s radiant smile was lighting up those events, and then after that ask yourself two questions: 1. When did God and I act together so that I was the conduit of God’s light to the world? and 2. When did I block his light?”
What Father Horn says is so true and important that we profess it in the creed each Sunday.
“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God,” we proclaim at Mass, and then add something significant: “through him all things were made.”
Think about that. God is the ground of all being, and Jesus Christ is “God from God, Light from Light,” from whom all things were made. That means that every single thing we see, touch, taste, feel, experience was made through Jesus Christ.
Every beautiful thing you see was made through the One who is Perfect Beauty. Every true thing participates in his Truth, every kindness participates in his Love, every positive act is in his Justice and every mercy is in his Mercy. Every pain and sorrow you experience can be united to Christ crucified and his invitation to “take up your cross and follow me.”
It also means that you live your whole day in the presence of Christ’s grace — not just the moments when you are in church or at prayer.
That is why Father Michael Gaitley stressed the examination of conscience when he guest lectured at a Benedictine College leadership class recently.
“For St. Ignatius of Loyola, the examination of conscience is one of the most powerful spiritual exercises a person can do outside of the sacraments,” he said. “Ignatius said you may miss your meditation some days. You may miss your Rosary. You may miss your spiritual reading. There is one thing I want you never to miss, and that’s your examen.”
Start your examination of conscience by thanking God for the day’s blessings.
For years, my family instituted a rule during our nightly prayer: You couldn’t ask God for anything unless you first thanked him for something.
It taught us how easy it is to forget how much we have to be thankful for.
First of all, we thank God for the things we don’t have to pray for. Our roof isn’t leaking, the cars are running, no one is sick — or if someone is sick, we are thankful because it could be much worse.
Then we thank God for things we take for granted but really shouldn’t — that I have a job, that we have the gift of faith and a church nearby, and that we have a community of friends.
It is also helpful to be specific about the things this day has given us to thank God for— the great conversation this morning, the compliment the youngest child got during the day, and the dessert we had after dinner.
Once you look at your life that way, light from heaven fills your day.
In my class at Benedictine College, we are studying the roots of secularism, and one cause of secularism was the blasé religion that predominated in 19th-century Europe.
As Michael Novak has described it, “The French bourgeoisie had turned religion into a kind of bookkeeping. So many penances and so many prayers produced small gains on the plus side. It remained only to avoid a certain list of sins to keep one’s balance sheet in order.”
But heaven isn’t the reward for people who have their paperwork in order; it’s the Father’s house, the storehouse of his goodness and grace.
And, as Father Horn put it, the Father’s radiant smile is filling our life even now.