Making an Examination of Conscience | Fr. Bonaventure Chapman & Fr. Gregory Pine

February 15, 2024

Fr. Bonaventure: This is Fr. Bonaventure Chapman

Fr. Gregory:  And this is Fr. Gregory Pine

Fr. Bonaventure: Welcome to Godsplaining. Thanks to all who support us. If you enjoy this show, please consider making a monthly donation on Patreon. Be sure to like, subscribe to Godsplaining, wherever you listen to your podcast. Fr. Gregory, how are you doing? 

Fr. Gregory: Yep, doing well. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yep, great. I mean, I love our intro. It’s just, it’s so flexible. There’s so many different things you can do with it. Most of you don’t play around with it as much as I like to play around with it.

Fr. Gregory:  Yeah, most of us try to read it as a normal human being would read it, but I love that you’ve just, not only have you despaired of that project entirely, but you’ve kind of joyfully tossed it out the window in favor of what is in fact a higher synthesis. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yes, Alf Habon. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, exactly. You’re like, what if instead of syntactical English, we did non-syntactical English? 

Fr. Bonaventure: Well, you know, as George Orwell says, syntax and grammar, not that important. As long as people understand what you mean. So I’m going with that. But it is… Yeah. 

Fr. Gregory: The middle of February?

 Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, and Lent. 

Fr. Gregory: Oh, is it? Okay. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Ash Wednesday, yesterday, I think. Valentine’s Day. So it’s one of those fun experiences where you get every once, every, somewhere between one and 20 years, you get Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday all on the same day. Who would know? Yep. But we’re into Ash Wednesday, and the question I have for you is, you grew up with Ash Wednesday sort of thing. I came into the fold later, but I went to a Catholic boys school, so we did have this thing so that we all wore ashes, even though we’re Protestants, of course, but you did because as a Catholic, you did Confessions, so you’d go and talk to a priest for a little bit together in a gym listening to Styx, “Show me the way, show me the way, take me tonight to the river and wash all my sins away.” And then we would go and confess to it, go to a priest, and you’d have ashes and you’d go back to class and you’d have ashes on your forehead. And I thought this was delightful, but do you have a favorite Ash Wednesday, because you probably have years and years of this in your back pocket, but as a growing up or at any time, like Ash, like difficult, do I keep it, what’s going on, or someone misidentifies it or it’s like a giant, I don’t know, like an Ash forehead goiter or something, like someone who really put a lot on there, what do you got? 

Fr. Gregory: So in solicitude and care for our listeners, I just want to say that you, when you say that you went to confession as a Protestant, you mean you went and talked to a priest, but you didn’t receive sacramental absolution? 

Fr. Bonaventure: Oh, I definitely didn’t. I would go up to him and say, “Hi, I’m Protestant, do you, uh, could I just talk?” And he would always say, “Sure.” And then we’d talk. Yeah, correct. 

Fr. Gregory: Nice. Okay. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Obviously our listeners knew that I did not do anything like that. 

Fr. Gregory: I just wanted to make sure, lest they, you get it. So… 

Fr. Bonaventure: What if I did? 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, right. Yeah. So at various points in my life, I had dubious hygiene practices. So I think that most like six-year-old boys have dubious hygiene practices. They shower as much as their mother forces them to, so that’s excusable. But I also did various non-showering experiments at points in my life because I thought it was funny and/or silly and/or mildly provocative. And so I remember there was one point at which I realized that this experiment would definitely identify me as an unhygienic person on the Thursday following Ash Wednesday. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Oh yeah. 

Fr. Gregory: Because Ash Wednesday, it’s normal to have a cross on your head. But on Ash Thursday, it is decidedly not normal to have an ash cross on your forehead. Because you out yourself as somebody who doesn’t shower every day. 

Fr. Bonaventure: That’s true. 

Fr. Gregory: And that’s, I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who don’t shower every day. I mean, women wash their hair somewhere between once every three and 10 days, as it turns out. Yeah, right. Crazy, right? You know? Right. Crazy. Yeah, apparently you’re not supposed to wash your hair. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Blue pill. 

Fr. Gregory: You’re not supposed to wash your hair every day because it does something to it. I don’t know what that thing is. If it… It’s not much of it to go, so we’re good. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Whatever it’s doing, it can do it. 

Fr. Gregory: So I would say that the anxiety of Ash Thursday in my unhygienic periods is one of the most formative experiences. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Oh, so you had to take a shower. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, exactly. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Or a bath. 

Fr. Gregory: Uh-huh. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Someone had to draw you a bath? Okay. Wow. Fantastic. Yeah. My favorite was, not me from my experience, but from one of the college students when I was at Providence College as a chaplain, we had many, many Ash Wednesday services. You’d have tons of like 10 of these things during the day, the students would come in. And I was leaving one of them in the morning, going to class to teach. And one of the… There was a lax bro coming out of the chapel, and he had received his ashes, of course. And then there were two other of his friends walking somewhere else, and one of them said, “What’s that on your forehead, bro?” And he said, “Go ash yourself.” And it was so… I mean, that required… I thought, you know, we need shirts with that. I mean, this is capitalism 101. You just… Catholic capitalism, just… Yeah. 

Fr. Gregory: Market that. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Market, merchandise that, and you have, yeah, go ash yourself. Yeah. That was so… And he said it like nonchalantly. Just own that. Without hesitation. He just owned that, bro. Didn’t skip a beat. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So that was Ash Wednesday at Providence College in 2018, perhaps. 

Fr. Gregory: Nice. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah. Which was exciting. Yeah, it seems that way. But since the season of Lent, and we’re talking about ashes and preparation and such, throughout this episode, we talk about examination of conscience before confession, ’cause a lot of people are doing confession, there’s admin penance services and things, the time to think about confession. So it’s a good time to get back in the practice of confessions, but we don’t wanna have an infinite regress here. We’re not gonna talk about learning English and how to speak, and we’re gonna stop at just the pre-confession, examinations of conscience, so we won’t go into examinations and that. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, people were worried about the infinite regress. I could feel it in their kind of tremulous hands. 

Fr. Bonaventure: It’s always there. Yeah. It’s always a possibility, it seems, except for the first mover. But we’ll look at not confession here, we have episodes on that, I suspect. 

Fr. Gregory: We have many. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Oh yeah, cool. But an examination, so how you get to confession, not by driving, but driving the mind. So going through and that. 

Fr. Gregory: These are such helpful clarifications, because I’m sure that everyone who listens to this podcast is haunted by similar existential threats as you and I are. So our clarifications are like a salve for their souls. I just wanted to shoehorn the word salve in there, but pronounce it in appropriate 19th century English terms. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, salve, I love that. That’s great. Swabhi tare. Okay, in any case, we’re talking about examination of conscience. 

Fr. Gregory: We’re about to. 

Fr. Bonaventure: We’re about to. 

Fr. Gregory: We haven’t yet. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Seems that way. We’re idling, ambling up to it, or whatever that expression is. Think of a crab and kind of like sidling. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, sidling sounds right. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yes, I know, that’s right, that seems right. 

Fr. Gregory: Maybe frontaling would be what you do when you go forwards rather than to the side. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Or what is it, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and shouldering? Is that what Tom does in there? He shoulders? Oh, that’s fantastic. 

Fr. Gregory: There’s no word for backing up in Spanish, or at least we couldn’t find one when Father Timothy and I were assigned in Columbia, so we invented a verb, ‘atraste arse’, which means to back yourself up. So we’ve also got that in our arsenal too. Okay. Yeah, various ways of moving. 

Fr. Bonaventure:I like that. All right, but we’re going to get forward to examination of conscience and what this thing is, because a lot of times people in confessions say, “I haven’t really had time to,” or “I didn’t really examine my conscience well,” and you want to go, “Well, why not?” And I suspect a lot of it’s because they may not know or think about what this is. So let’s just reflect a bit on, one, what the conscience is that you’re examining, and then look at some practical tips maybe, some stuff that we have, experiences, and maybe resources and thoughts that people can examine that conscience well. So let’s just start with conscience and figure out what that is, because we’re going to examine it, so we’re going to have to aim for what we’re going to find. What would you say, maybe what people think conscience is, and what is a good way of thinking about it so that it’s prepared for examination? 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, so conscience comes from con-science, which means knowledge with, or basically thought with. And what is it that you’re thinking with? Well, you’re making a comparison between your moral experience, whether future or past, and the moral law. All right? So conscience is a tool for refining our moral knowledge and for judging our moral comportment. So when we inform our consciences, we’re trying to sift our moral knowledge against the particular details of our human lives, so that way we have a keener insight into what’s permissible and what’s impermissible. But then we’re also trying to inform our practice, right? So we’re trying to say, “All right, in future instances, I’m going to avoid that and I’m going to do that.” The problem with our human experience is that it’s potentially infinite in its various expressions. And so the circumstances might be such that you find yourself in a situation that you did not foresee or that you could not have foreseen. And so you have to have some facility for this type of moral reasoning if you’re going to extricate yourself or effectuate whatever good that lies in store. So basically, examination of conscience is a kind of tool for, one, accusing yourself of past sins, or maybe excusing yourself of past sins in certain cases, but also of looking forward to the future so that you have a more keen insight into what your call is in life and how best to respond to God in the various details. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, I think that’s good, and I think that people have a sense–well, there might be misapprehension that conscience is something that you’re born with, it’s a sort of moral faculty or ability to know the truth of the moral situation at any given moment. And there’s a sense in which we, whether we do well or not, is not because we don’t know what to do, but because whether we listen to our conscience or not. And ideally, I think that is how it ought to be, your conscience, as you say, is a matter of formation. And oftentimes, we do have, sort of feels intuitive grasp of the right thing to do, but that’s often because we’ve been experiencing situations and you’ve noticed that, you know, you ought not to punch someone in the face, but you ought to help someone who’s in trouble and this sort of thing. So it’s reinforced, your conscience is being formed not only by teaching and reading documents, but also just the familial situation of growing up with your mother and father, teaching and relating you to these things. So it’s all shaping this kind of, this moral faculty, you could say, this moral experience that then can be judged against something. It’s an internalization, or at least should be, with the moral law that you can judge yourself with. But it’s not something I think you’re just born with, fully fitted, fully kitted out. And I think people have a sense sometimes that we always know what’s really right and really wrong. And then so someone says, “Oh, this person has just, they have too extreme of a conscience. I don’t feel bad about doing that.” And you think, well, but maybe you ought to have done. So how does, maybe before we get into the examination exactly, what is it about forming a good conscience? And why is it important to do that as opposed to just trust, quotation marks, people’s moral instincts? 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, so maybe for like 20 seconds of a nerd exclusive and then, you know, 40 seconds of open to all. But basically, St. Thomas will say that conscience gives us a facility for judgments. Now the major premise in those judgments is supplied by the natural law, by our internalization of the natural law, which he calls the habit of first principles of practical reason, or synderesis. And then the minor premise is supplied by moral knowledge or moral science, so your experience of the moral world. And then you apply the judgment to a particular and consecrate circumstance. So we always have access to the natural law, but we can actually cloud it or obscure it by choosing poorly against it. So if you have bad habits or perverse customs in your culture, or if you’re just inflamed by passion, or if you’re darkened by ignorance, then you might choose against the natural law and you might build in yourself or build up in yourself habits contrary to it. So we need to be conscious of that. So we need to have a heart open to the various sources of input, which help to form our conscience so that we are more secure in following it. Because yeah, you’re meant to follow your conscience, but if you follow a poorly formed conscience or a bad conscience, you still incur sin. So just because you said I was conscious bound to do this thing doesn’t mean that you were conscious bound to not know the truth, to not pursue a deeper moral formation, to not inform yourself on this particular instance. So we always have to form our conscience over the course of our life so that we’re more secure in following it so that it ultimately leads us to the truth. And rather than to, what, like insist upon some unassailable interior forum in which I myself and God and King, it’s like, no, that’s just, that’s fairy tale land. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, exactly. And I like this moving away from the internal forum, pure business that I have as a direct access to God in this way, because a lot of this moral formation happens through seeing the examples of those who are moral formators around us. This is why I think Paul talks about being careful of your company, St. Paul, and it’s attentive to why your friendships are actually formative and educative of your moral sense. So if you’re around people who have dulled consciences all the time, then in some ways it’s not, it’s almost impossible not for you not to have dulled your sense of these things. So the moral formation of what to do and what not to do is not just a matter of reading the books all the time, but also being around people who embody, in a sense, these principles. I think that’s why the disciples as a band are so important to each other and why religious life and our holy friendships and families are important. Okay. So that’s conscience. Now, someone might say, “Well, I don’t need to examine it. I mean, when I do something wrong, I have a guilty conscience and I feel bad about this thing and then I go and confess it,” and this sort of thing. So like, examination, does that just mean, you know, thinking for a second or like feeling this spontaneous thing? Like examination, that sounds like I have to go in there and wander around rooted things. Isn’t that, isn’t there a danger in there that I might find something that I ought not to find? Or like, what is examination meant to be for this conscience thing? If conscience is just our natural judgment of our moral principles in relation to our actions, then shouldn’t that just be obvious? 

Fr. Gregory: I think we do it over the course of our lives more or less consciously and deliberately. And the point of an examination of conscience is to do so more consciously and deliberately. So like we said, you have to form your conscience and your conscience is formed by these various inputs, like the revelation of God, the grace of God, the various virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit, beatitudes, fruits of the Spirit that he bestows for our moral amelioration. And we need to be one, knowledgeable of those things, and then two, conformed or assimilated to those realities progressively over the course of our life. So when we examine our conscience, we’re judging what is at present against the backdrop of these various inputs, these various sources of ongoing perfection or growth in the life of faith. And we do so by entering consciously into this dynamic of shame and guilt and whatever else, because shame and guilt can be an indication as to what’s going on in your interior life. But often enough, it’s very vehement, and it’s also very confusing, even bewildering unless you begin to sort it out. Because if you lead with emotions or if you lead with feelings, oftentimes all you’re going to register is conflict, frustration, whatever else. And you won’t necessarily know whether that’s a good indication or a bad indication, because it can become progressively better as an indication if you form your conscience, right? If you form your thoughts, if you form your desires, and if you seek to direct them further up and further into the divine plan. So I think that that’s why, we’ll talk about the various kind of lists against which you can make judgments as to your own life. But shame and guilt aren’t the best, I mean, like emotion as manifest in shame and guilt sometimes, which has a more kind of rich spiritual resonance, but still, it’s not always the best indication unless you’ve been disciplining that shame and guilt, unless you’ve been educating it in the life of faith. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah. And this is again, attentive to that shame and guilt, which is a response to the formation that you have for your conscience, but you might actually feel guilty about something that you ought not to feel guilty about depending on our society. So a lot, if the society has gone bonkers on a particular issue, then you might feel like I’m supposed to feel guilty or I feel guilty about doing X. When actually it’d be totally fine for you to do X, it’s not a problem or something. So this is why also societal stuff all kind of comes together here with conscience and the formation of the moral character. But what I also like about the examination of conscience is the emphasis on knowledge and a particular kind of knowledge, not just knowledge of the moral law, like an abstract knowledge, but a knowledge of the self, right? That the conscience and consciousness, so conscience and consciousness are related to the knowledge of the self. So we’re conscious of ourselves and our conscience is the knowledge of that in relation to the moral law. And that’s where truth comes in. I mean, the knowledge of myself in terms of like what items I’ve made of and what I’ve eaten and kind of descriptive historical comments are one thing, but I think our real, what we care about ourselves is our moral normative status. Like, am I a good person? Am I doing well? Am I disposed to act in a virtuous manner? Have I comported myself well? Am I ready to not be a coward or something? And conscience, the examination of conscience allows us to face, to go inside and to actually know something about ourselves, which is not an external, it’s not unrelated to external things. I examine my conscience and it seems like I’m fine even though I keep stealing things. But so it has a relations, but it has, it’s really realizing your own dispositions and your own history, like knowing honestly of yourself, hey, what did I do there? Like what was that really about? And so often we don’t, we’re so good at deceiving ourselves and we often don’t, aren’t willing to acknowledge what actually happened and what our action actually was in a particular situation until we have more time. Like there’s just, we blind ourselves or we hide ourselves from ourselves sometimes because we can’t handle it. And the saint is one who is not afraid of the self because he or she knows the love of God, even and in spite and despite all these, of any of their sinfulness. Whereas for those of us who are unter wegues, we’re not quite saints yet, I think we want to hide, we want to fig leaf things. And examination of conscience is a way of reminding us that it won’t do, but it gives us a safe space to enter in and say, what was, what were my, not just like what externally happened, but what really happened there? Because the internal, the intentions of an act shaped the act itself. It’s a character of it. So it makes a difference between whether it was, you know, some offhand comment or some act of, in a sense, malice. And I might not initially know what that is, but the examination gets a deep, who I actually am and who I, what I did. So I like that internal knowledge aspect to the examination. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah. I think that I repeat this often enough, two dimensions to human life, the living of it, the interpreting of it, and the interpreting of it is important. It’s not just like, if you have time, interpret your life. No, it’s super important to interpret your life because that helps you on the one hand to come into richer possession of your own agency. On the other hand, to participate more consciously or deliberately in the providence of God to kind of like exercise your role within His plan. And then on the third hand, you have three hands now, just heads up. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Triple hands. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, triple hand power, the power of three hands. And on the third hand is to consent, right, to give yourself to that, right, just to look at the whole of it and say, yeah, at the very least, this may as well happen beyond that to say, this is good because it’s from the hand of God and it represents the only grace that he actually affords, which is the only grace to which I can consent with which. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Which hand of God? 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, the third hand. And then the other thing is, I’ll often say this in the context of the sacrament of confession, and you can see that people have made a good examination of conscience, but don’t necessarily feel like they’re making progress. I’ll often say God illumines the conscience as a kind of promise of his healing and growth of the intellect, the will, and the passions or the emotions. So like God will shine the light on something that he intends then to refine by the heat that comes in the wake of said light. But like light precedes heat in this dispensation of salvation, so you just need to be patient with that. So I think a lot of people like to have one’s conscience illumined in this way, in our own cooperation with God in this process, it facilitates our ongoing conversion. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, I think that’s right. Okay. All right, so we’ve been doing some speculative stuff, you could say. Let’s get down to brass tacks, whatever that means.

 Fr. Gregory: Let’s get down to our third hand. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, exactly. Let’s third hand it and talk about some ways of, you say, “Oh yeah, examination of conscience is very important. I want to do this well.” So let’s do some practical stuff about how to do it, and then maybe we’ll do the situation of when and where there might be an attention to it. So there are plenty of different methods, seemingly, which means that no one probably does any of them, but maybe there’s some that, it’s like an IHOP menu, there’s too much to choose from. 

Fr. Gregory: Waffle House. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Waffle House, yep, yep. I’m going to get that coffee cup that you can just tell has caked on lipstick, caked lip, you know, just skin for years upon years, but you know how many people are dead that have drank in the front of this cup. That’s what I love about Waffle House. 

Fr. Gregory: The history. 

Fr. Bonaventure: The history. The heritage. Yeah, exactly. The story of the human person. Right there. So, but there are different ways of examining the conscience, different tools, you could say. I have an image in my mind when I think about examining the conscience is, it’s a bit like when you were a kid and you had iron filings that you put in some, you ever put iron filings? 

Fr. Gregory: You were a kid, what, in the ’60s? 

Fr. Bonaventure: That’s exactly right. 

Fr. Gregory: Okay, keep going. 

Fr. Bonaventure: You took a thermometer and broke it open and you just kicked around some, what do you call that? 

Fr. Gregory: Mercury. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Mercury, yeah, exactly. 

Fr. Gregory: I’m with you. 

Fr. Bonaventure: And then you have brain damage, whatever. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, great, keep going. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, so iron, you did this in science, didn’t you do it? 

Fr. Gregory: No. 

Fr. Bonaventure: You didn’t do it in science? 

Fr. Gregory: Just keep going. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Okay, so there’s iron filings, these little metal things made of iron, and then you have magnets. Yeah. Okay.

Fr. Gregory:  I’ve heard of them. 

Fr. Bonaventure: You can hold them over, you can drop the iron filings in the grass and you can hold a magnet over it, and it draws them out up to it. It’s like by magic, except it’s called magnets. But no one knows. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah. And no one can know.

 Fr. Bonaventure: No one can, doesn’t seem to be. It’s just a basic primitive. It’s like law of non-contradiction, principle of sufficient reason, magnetism. No one knows. But it draws them out, so you put the magnet over. It’s not unlike a metal detector or something, but it actually draws it. And I think of these tools, the different ways you can use the examination tools, as like running over your life, that it’s hidden to sins, but it draws them out. Because if I just go and look for myself with my hands, I won’t always find them. But the magnet power has the ability to actually draw out the metal. So I think of these as different tools to run across your life and draw out those sins, so that then you can take them and hand them to Father, and then he knows what to do with them. 

Fr. Gregory: Exactly. He slams the magnet on the ground and demagnetizes it. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Exactly. Yeah. Hopes for monopole, but that’s the magic. You keep breaking them and you never get one.

Fr. Gregory: All right, so the things that I use for this purpose are first the five precepts of the Church, then the Ten Commandments, then the Seven Deadly Sins, and then the Seven Main Virtues and the associated gifts of the Holy Spirit. You might find yourself saying, “That seems like an impossibly long list.” It is. I offer these as a sampling, and people will pick and choose and identify those things that help them most. So the five precepts of the Church, most everyone knows them. So it’s you go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, you receive Holy Communion once a year in the Easter season, you make a good sacramental confession if conscious of mortal sin at least once a year, you support the temporal needs of the Church, and you observe the Church’s fasts and abstinences. And then people know the Ten Commandments, we’re not going to list them. Seven Deadly Sins, we’ve had a series on the seven deadly sins on the podcast. But in brief, we’ve got pride, envy, anger, sloth, depends on which host you’re talking to on Godsplaining, how you pronounce it, avarice, gluttony, and lust. And then seven principle virtues, we’ve also had a seven part series on Godsplaining on these as well, faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. And then you can go into other things besides if you so choose, but the basic idea is knowing the absolute required, bare bones, basics, and then getting a sense for what is revealed in the old covenant as incurring what, a mortal danger to the life of grace in your soul. And then the Seven Deadly Sins as those which give rise to, we call them the capital vices because they give rise to vices and to sin in your life. And then virtues as setting before us the ideal beneath which we fall short, whatever the appropriate preposition there, I don’t know what it would be, but you just fill it in so as to kind of set before our eyes the paradigm, the standard, the golden kind of rule to which we want to attain so that we can judge our actions in light of those things. So people find some arrangement of those to be helpful. 

Fr. Bonaventure: I don’t think that’s… No, that’s good. And people think, “Oh my gosh, there’s so much there.” And I mean, you could do it by just listening to all those Godsplaining episodes. We haven’t done the 10 Commandments yet, have we? Let’s go. Whoa, cool. Five precepts of the Church, too. Man, we could do this whole thing and it’d only take you hours. What you’ll find, as most people have found, I think, that use tools like this, is that your sins kind of gravitate around. You have natural grooves, you could say, in your soul that gravitates to certain sins. So for instance, the murder commandment, you’re probably not going to… But you’ll go under… And you’ll kind of get used to checking in. It’s almost like you’re wandering through the house of your soul and you know which rooms are the ones that need the most attention. And sometimes there are loud noises and crashes in other rooms that you have to tend to. Usually that room’s fine, but all of a sudden… But I think there’s a speed with which one goes through these things, not totally quickly or attention to rush through them. But as you know yourself, I think, you can move through this house quicker with these things and actually really helpfully. It’s good to have specific sins that you’re looking for, again, like a chest of a bunch of different magnets that magnetize for different things. Like they’re very specific in aiming for these, because the more we can… Oh, I was going to invent a word like you might like to… 

Fr. Gregory: Do it. 

Fr. Bonaventure: No. Preciseify. 

Fr. Gregory: Yes, thank you. 

Fr. Bonaventure: I just knew that was… Yeah. The more precision we can have in categorizing our actions, in clarifying them or explaining them, the more we own those actions. I mean, we’re knowers and lovers and we’re rational beings that fix ourselves and our gaze and our actions on the world through concepts, and the better concepts we have, the more the world appears. Like if I just have a concept of a brown bird, I can’t identify the difference between a house sparrow and a barn sparrow in this. But if I know the concept of a house sparrow and a barn sparrow, then I can see the world more clearly. I think it’s the same thing with these tools, which sound like a lot of concepts, the seven vices and seven virtues and the 10 Commandments, but it means that you can wander in and see yourself more clearly. We all want… We don’t initially want it, but we do want, at the end of the day, self-knowledge. We want to know who we actually are, because we don’t know who we are. We can’t fix that. And we can’t give ourselves to God openly and honestly if we don’t know who we are to give. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think… I was listening to a podcast recently, Sister Anna Ray gave a talk about Boulder Dash for a domestic institute lecture, and she was describing how she defines Boulder Dash as when you use a word in the right way, but you don’t actually know it, you’re not actually conscious of it. You don’t actually internalize… 

Fr. Bonaventure: That’s just called language. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah. So, yeah, maybe we have different sensibilities as to what conscious use of language entails. But she was saying that we want to get granular about our use of language because it helps us to get granular about our use of concepts, which helps us to get granular about our engagement with reality. That’s ultimately the point. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, that’s right. 

Fr. Gregory: You want to be honest with your language so you can be honest about your thoughts. You can be honest about your life. And I think that an examination of conscience is just such a tool. And so we don’t just do an exhaustive categorization of the five precepts of the church, the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins, the seven principle virtues, so that way we can be comprehensive in our self-accusation so as thereby to grind our own human spirit into the dust where it belongs. I mean, you can do that if you want. I just wouldn’t recommend it. The point is ultimately to come before the Lord and say, who am I, not as a kind of psychological experiment or as a therapeutic discipline, but who am I supposed to be? What are the principle obstacles or hindrances? Some of them register at the level of temperamental or constitutional indisposition. Some of them register at the level of spiritual block. Some of them register at the level of deep seated attachment, or some of them register at the level of genuine malice. I just hate that dude. And I just want to take every opportunity to embarrass him or to engage in verbal repartee, whatever it is. We have to know who we are and what these various things which beset our moral character are so that way we can give them to the Lord and ask for the healing and growth which comes in turn. 

Fr. Bonaventure: And also the preparation is for contrition, sorrow. And although that’s not a passion per se, it involves passions, and they’re dealing with particular things. Our passions are dealing with the particular events, entities, what have you. And so the more precise we can be about these particular sins and failings, the more sorrowful we can be for them, not in the sense of quantitative like more crying, more weeping, but actually our sorrow can be attentive to the actual things themselves and to our own deeds in specifics as opposed to I’m sorry that I’m not a good person. I mean, oftentimes people might say, you know, I’ve been pretty good this this year, but you think, well, okay, so what does that mean? That could mean something like you took out the trash or you donate a million dollars or you, you know, you went to Mass. It could mean a ton of things. But if you say I’m good in this particular way or like I’m, you know, or someone said I was, yeah, I’m not good at this thing or I was bad in this way. Well, give me a specifics because then you can actually, you actually know I’m really sorry for this thing. The particularity of it is great, I like the granular, granular nature of it too. Okay. Before we close out on this, we don’t like how to do it in a sense. What about, I don’t think people talk about this sort of thing, but recommendations for like when and where, you know, I mean one option is as the on in the way as you walk, as you stand in the line and you have three seconds before you enter the confessional. But are there other places and times and ways that times that you could, you could examine in your conscience? 

Fr. Gregory: Here at Godsplaining, we tend to espouse the principle, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So if you haven’t been to confession recently and there’s a priest passing by and you know you have an opportunity, seize it, right? Don’t let the perfect… 

Fr. Bonaventure: Seize him. 

Fr. Gregory: Yes. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Three hands on him. 

Fr. Gregory: All three hands. Don’t let this recognition that you haven’t made an adequate examination of conscience immediately antecedent to the practice of the sacrament of confession pose for you a stumbling block, right? Get that grace. Don’t treat the sacraments like magic, right? We want to be well-disposed, we want to approach them in faith, but still you can do that in a variety of ways. But I think that if you find yourself going to the sacrament of confession without having made an adequate examination of conscience and just repeating the same sins because you’re in the habit of saying those sins, then maybe that requires some adjustment. And I would say that you should come before that list of sins, even if you use that as your kind of standard or your template and ask yourself, am I just repeating this because it sounds nice? Or am I just repeating this because I’ve said this before? Am I just repeating this because it’s the things that I remember at present? Are there other ways in which I could search the depths of my heart and might these tools be helpful in that pursuit? I think that’s what you could profit from. So I would say in church, before you get in line for the Sacrament of Confession and then shoot for three to five minutes, I think is a good little time because I don’t think that it should endure unto ages of ages unless you’re making a general confession. Let’s say that you were baptized Catholic and that you stopped practicing the faith for 25 years. Now you’re coming back, you’re going to want to make a general confession over the course of however many years you’ve been away, and that’s going to take some time. So give it the time. Give it the journaling. It’s fine to write it down in that instance and stuff like that. But in general, yeah, three to five minutes while seated in the church before getting in line because then in the line you can think about Jesus, you can be bored, you can pray the rosary, you don’t have to maximize or optimize. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah, that seems right. And also the Jesuit model, of course, so Father Timothy Gallagher, we did an interview with, you can go and find that, and they have the examine, which is twice a day after lunch and then usually in the evening, and you reflect on the day and have a particular way just for a couple of minutes. And that’s another practice you might find at the end of the day. Some people might find an examination there as opposed to waiting for a while so that you get in the habit of examining the conscience for Confession. Also because if you’re going to daily mass, of course, venial sins that are brought before the Lord are forgiven and healed by a good Communion, a good attentionist at the Mass. And so a kind of daily examine, some see people find helpful to be able to pair themselves to mention the minor things to the Lord, the venial aspects that moved away from him. The key is to do it with some frequency, obviously tied to confession, of course. And I suppose we’ve assumed that you might want to go to confession more than once a year, but some regular practice of that, which see our other episodes on confession and such. But the examination that it’s a practice that you have to know yourself and know who you are and therefore be able to offer yourself to the Lord and to others. You know, the examination of conscience is also a humbling experience, not just because I’m going to get something to be able to present myself to the Lord in a way, but also it reminds me of my failings with my brothers and I get to see them in a new light as well. Whereas if I haven’t examined my conscience for a while in any fashion, I just only pay attention to the surface things and don’t pay attention to the intentions and the deeper structures of my actions that lead me away from the Lord and from my brothers. So any final encouragements on examination of conscience for people? 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah. So that’s some good examination of consciences, examinations of conscience, whatever you’re supposed to make plural there, just do it. So Fr. Mike Schmitz has a great one on Bulldog Catholic. So the University of Minnesota at Duluth, it’s available online that you can use there. The Knights of Columbus have a nice examination of conscience. And as far as the virtue approach goes, I really like the one that the Dominican sisters and Mary Mother of the Eucharist have formulated. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Can you get that online? 

Fr. Gregory: You can’t get that for free. I think you have to pay for it with their other resources that they have there. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Okay. There’s a nice little pamphlet you can carry around. That’s quite good. 

Fr. Gregory: Yeah, exactly. So I tend to recommend those three as a good place to begin. And then if you want to formulate your own examination of conscience on the basis of those and then post it on the internet for others, just tag Godsplaining and then people can profit from it. 

Fr. Bonaventure: There we go. Fantastic. Well, that’s enough for us for here. Thank you for those for listening to this podcast. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter X, Instagram, like, subscribe, and leave a five-star review. Follow the links in the description for any information on upcoming events, getting our merchandise. And in particular, the upcoming events, we want to mention the retreat in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is March 16th. Nailed it. And that’s going to be with Father Gregory and— 

Fr. Gregory: Everybody except for you. 

Fr. Bonaventure: That’s it. A lot of the people are going to be there. All your favorites. So it’ll be in Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s a great time. So if you want to see all … if you want to see Godsplainers, then please come out to that. We’d love to see you there. 

Fr. Gregory: Just not you. 

Fr. Bonaventure: Yeah. That’s, you know— 

Fr. Gregory: Whatever. 

Fr. Bonaventure: But Lincoln, Nebraska. March 16th. There’s still time for that. There’s other events coming up, of course, which I will also be involved in. Stay tuned for that. But know of our prayers. We’ll be praying for you, and we’ll catch you next time on Godsplaining.