When I do an Examination of Conscience, or my Daily Examen, I’m often confronted with how sinful I am. A Daily Examen is the practice of recounting our shortcomings and sins prayerfully in the presence of the Lord, asking for His forgiveness and the strength to do better.
But contrary to popular understanding, acknowledging our shortcomings is only part of the Daily Examen. We should also call to mind our blessings. The Daily Examen, like Step Four, invites us to review both the positive and the negative aspects of our lives.
For example, when it comes to the commandment to not have other gods before the one true God, I tell myself that I attend Mass, read the Liturgy of the Word daily, and don’t swear.
Yet, I often fall into the immoderate desire to gain wealth and physical security. I spend unbelievable amounts of time on social media and in front of the TV. In other words, I make these things idols—gods in my life.
Or, when I consider the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath, I tell myself that I celebrate Mass every Sunday and usually take time for rest. Yet, I don’t always take this time of rest to truly grow in my connection with the Lord.
My point is that there is not one commandment that I don’t break in some way regularly. In fact, I would go as far as to say there is probably not one day that I don’t break all 10 of the commandments! I, like Paul, must proclaim: “What a wretched man I am for I don’t do the things I ought, and do the things I know I shouldn’t.” I am woefully sinful!
But I have Jesus Christ.
In Christ, I’m a new creation. Jesus has paid the price for every sin I have committed or will ever commit. From the cross, He declared, “It is finished.” And the reason I have hope is that on Easter Sunday the tomb was empty: Jesus was resurrected. The reason I can have confidence in God’s mercy is that the Holy Spirit has been given to us.
When I first started praying and reading Scripture every day, for instance, I did it out of a desire for discipline, a strategy to avoid sin. In a similar way, it’s easy to develop the tendency of doing a Daily Examen as a strategy for avoiding sin as well. Yet, merely trying to avoid sin is not enough.
That isn’t to say we shouldn’t do what we can to avoid sin and grow in holiness. We should. But, ultimately, we must admit our weakness and inability to do anything without God’s grace. We must acknowledge that we are sinful but remain hopeful in God’s mercy. And we can do this when, during our Daily Examen, we remain aware of the many blessings He has poured into our lives.
That’s why I begin my Daily Examen by reminding myself of the blessings I have enjoyed that day. I spend time giving glory to God for His presence in my life and His incredible provision. Having first done that, I then courageously and confidently present my shortcomings and sins to the Lord so that He can heal, comfort, encourage, and instruct me.
By taking time for a Daily Examen to be grateful and present my sins to our merciful Lord, I’m able to access and unlock the grace necessary to grow into a better version of myself. This is not done through my sole effort of trying to be better or more holy. Rather, it’s given to me when I simply accept that I’m a sinner and that God alone, through trust, can make me holy.
A Daily Examen is a wonderful way to remind us of the amazing gifts that God has given us today—and to receive the grace to grow in holiness tomorrow. It isn’t about being perfect and free from all of our sins—which we can’t do on our own anyways—but about accepting the mercy that God wants to pour onto us and, by His grace, becoming the men and women we are created to be.
Jim Gorski is a 57-year-old father of four children who has been married to the same woman for 35 years. He completed his master’s degree in social work in 1984 and has directed church music groups for the past 41 years. He remains a grateful child of the most high God and strives to trust in God’s loving mercy and His ability to provide for Jim’s every need.