Six Ways to Examine Your Conscience for Confession

“The renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance.” – Pope Benedict XVI at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C.

“The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the word of God.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1454

As a follow-up to our Seven Reasons to Return to Confession here are examinations of conscience for beginners and those who are used to the sacrament.

1. Look to the Catechism

Says the Catechism: “The passages best suited to [the examination of conscience] can be found in the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings.” Here is how the Compendium of the Catechism summarizes this “moral catechesis.”

The two commandments of love:
1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
2. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12):
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

The five precepts of the Church:
1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and remain free from work or activity that could impede the sanctification of such days.
2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

The seven capital sins:
1. Pride
2. Covetousness
3. Lust
4. Anger
5. Gluttony
6. Envy
7. Sloth

2. Look at Your Love

Meditatively read 1Corinthians 13:4-7. Ask of each word, is this me?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

3. Look at Christ

Read Colossians 3:1-10. Ask, “Do I indulge in these?”

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. … Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming [upon the disobedient]. By these you too once conducted yourselves, when you lived in that way.  But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths. Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator.”

4. Look at Your Relationships

One recommended practice for examination of conscience is to ask: How is my relationship with God? With others? With myself? Questions that can get you started …

1. My Relationship with God

  • Am I generous in the way I live the precepts of the Church?
  • Did I skip Sunday Mass? Did I try to make the most of it, even if distracted? Did I tune it out and not try to tune back in?
  • Did I sacrifice other things the sake for the Sabbath on Sunday, or did I, in effect, sacrifice the Sabbath for the sake of other things?
  • Have I been “saying” my prayers instead of “praying” them?
  • What have I done to increase my faith, hope and love? Do I pray for more faith, hope and love?

2. My Relationship with others

  • Did I put myself at the service of others, or have I used others for my sake?
  • Did I show my spouse (and parents and other family) love in words and actions? Did I respect my spouse (and other family) enough to be honest?
  • How am I with my children? Am I careful about the example I set? Do I try to build their character, or is my discipline reactive, based on what bugs me?
  • How am I with my friends? Do I always make things go my way? Do I go along with them, even in what is morally offensive? Do I initiate or participate in gossip?
  • How am I with my employer? Do I make the best use of my time? Do I behave with gratitude for my employment?

3. My Relationship with Myself

  • Do I battle the capital sins in myself?
  • Am I another person when I am alone? Am I another person in my thoughts? Do I think things about others I could never say? Or do I strive to live the  Golden Rule starting in my heart?
  • Do I live my Christian principles when no one is watching? Online? At work? In what I read? In what I watch? In what I listen to? In the car?
  • What have I done to improve my character? How have I fought against attachments that hold me back?
  • Did I send God away and block him out of certain areas of my life – social life, leisure life, work life, studies, etc.?

5. Look at Your Sins of Omission

The Last Judgment (sheep and goats), the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Parable of the Talents: In the stories Jesus tells, he directs his greatest condemnation at sins of omission, the failure to do good. On the basis of Christ’s words, Archbishop Charles Chaput has said on several occasions, “If we do not help the poor, we will go to hell.” What have I failed to do?

The seven corporal works of mercy:
1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked.
4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Visit the sick.
6. Visit the imprisoned.
7. Bury the dead.

The seven spiritual works of mercy:
1. Counsel the doubtful.
2. Instruct the ignorant.
3. Admonish sinners.
4. Comfort the afflicted.
5. Forgive offenses.
6. Bear wrongs patiently.
7. Pray for the living and the dead.

6. Use the Ten Commandments.

Here is a commonly used review of the Ten Commandments for confession; one that aims to be thorough.

1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
Do I give God time every day in prayer?
Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart?
Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
Do I seek to surrender myself to God’s word as taught by the Church?
Have I ever received communion in the state of mortal sin?
Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
Are there other “gods” in my life? Money, Security, Power, People, etc.?

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Have I used God’s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
Have I been angry with God?
Have I wished evil upon any other person?
Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?

3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
Do I do needless work on Sunday?

4. Honor your father and your mother.
Do I honor and obey my parents?
Have I neglected my duties to my spouse and children?
Have I given my family good religious example?
Do I try to bring peace into my home life?
Do I care for my aged and infirm relatives?

5. You shall not kill.
Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
Have I physically harmed anyone?
Have I abused alcohol or drugs?
Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
Have I been angry or resentful?
Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization?
Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization?
Have I engaged, in any way, in sins against humanlife such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?

6. You shall not commit adultery.
Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new life?
Have I been guilty of masturbation?
Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations?
Have I respected all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as mere objects?
Have I been guilty of any homosexual activity?
Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words,actions?
Am I careful to dress modestly?

7. You shall not steal.
Have I stolen what is not mine?
Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
Do I gamble excessively, thereby denying my family of their needs?
Do I pay my debts promptly?
Do I seek to share what I have with the poor?
Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Have I lied? Have I gossiped?
Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
Have I injured the reputation of others by slanders?

9. You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.
Have I consented to impure thoughts?
Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
Have I behaved in an inappropriate way with members of the opposite sex: flirting, being superficial, etc.?

10. You shall not desire your neighbor’s goods.
Am I jealous of what other people have?
Do I envy the families or possessions of others?
Am I greedy or selfish?
Are material possessions the purpose of my life?

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.