Examination of conscience: the interior glance

Extract from Lived Christianity

How should the examination of conscience be done? With a glance. A glance where? To the centre of the heart. To see what? One thing only: the dominant disposition. And what is this dominant disposition? It is the feeling that moves the heart. In fact, I do nothing without my heart being pushed to do it by some thought or feeling which determines it. When I ask someone, “Why are you doing this?” he replies, “For this reason.” This reason is the thought that makes him act; and the thought is the dominant disposition of the heart at that moment.

It is this disposition, this thought, this feeling that the examination must ascertain. Why? Because this is what moves my heart and determines my conduct. When I hit on it, I know where I am and where I am going. If I am going straight (that is, to God) then everything is in order, and I have only to continue on my way. If I am going sideways (that is, towards my own satisfaction) I need to straighten out my intention.

“But is it easy to grasp this sentiment, this dominant disposition?” — Very easy: it only takes a glance. Where is my heart? I look and see very clearly whether it is going straight or not, and why it is going straight or not. When the eye is open, this jumps right out. — “Is this the whole examination?” — Yes, this is the whole of it; or at least what is essential. If this is not done, there can be no serious examination; when it is done, the examination is guaranteed.

“But what about other thoughts? Other feelings? And other actions?” — Thoughts and feelings that do not dominate are not dangerous. They are of no serious importance, except when they come to dominate, to direct the heart. But when they get to that point, they are in turn hit by the glance of the examination. When, subsequently, I grasp the good and bad feelings that move my heart, then how deeply do I know my soul! I know all the mechanisms of the train, and knowing that, it is easy to drive it. I have said “the good and bad feelings”, because you must see the good as well as the bad, in order to know the state of the heart. 

As for actions, knowledge of their number is not important except when it comes to mortal sins which must be confessed exactly; knowledge of other actions does not matter, except to help the knowledge of the dominant disposition which they make known.

“The examination of conscience, then, is very easy. It is the easiest thing of all, a glance. I can do it in an instant, as often as I want. But what about contrition? and amendment?” — When you know how to do it, the glance contains all of this. I see, I repent, I rectify.

To better understand the simplicity of this spiritual operation, which is needed to ensure a good course for your life, remember that your purpose is essentially one: to glorify God; that your journey is essentially one: to follow the will of God; that the multiple dispositions and movements of your soul must be dominated by grace, and that the main formative disposition of your piety is docility to God. What, therefore, must the glance assure you of? Of the existence of this dominant disposition in you, which commands everything.

Are you docile to God? In conclusion, this is what you must find out. If you are not, then you are not walking straight; if you are, you necessarily walk straight, and everything is fine. In fact, this is the real lever that controls the steam. When you are flexible and docile, your soul is open to the steam of grace, which rushes into the mechanism of your faculties and pulls them with all their movements in the direction of God’s glory. If you are reluctant, the lever is closed, grace is blocked at the entrance, and the evil movement that keeps your soul closed to God carries you off in the wrong direction.

The glance has the sole purpose of verifying whether your soul is open or closed; of keeping it open when it is open and, if not, of opening it. Is it difficult, therefore? And what does it cost? Nothing, except sincerity. Are you resolved to be a Christian — not by halves, but seriously, thoroughly — a Christian without cowardice and without falsehood; yes or no? Everything lies there.

If you feel the need for God in your heart then I have nothing further to add: you have understood me. Go ahead resolutely, I am sure you will make progress and have a good journey. — “But is a glance enough to assure us of the existence of this main disposition, which is docility?” — Yes, and you will immediately understand why. When you are docile, grace enters in. Upon entering, it gives you light. This light is God’s. And on what is it cast? On God, on you and on creatures: on God Who is your destination, in order to know Him as you must; on you, who are on the journey, in order to identify the defects that remain in you, the virtues that you lack, the results obtained, the dispositions to be changed, the needs to be satisfied and the resolutions to be taken; finally, on creatures, which are your means, to see which must be eliminated, and which must be used and how to use them.

With the help of this light, what do you see of God, of yourself and of creatures? You see exactly the points which are there to be seen, according to the current needs of your journey. So everything is well lit: the destiny, the journey and the means. And it is grace which brings all things to light. If you do not see them in the light of grace, you will never see anything; or you will see everything backwards. It is the glance that ensures that this light enters in. In this way, to know everything that you need to know, grace is needed; to introduce grace, docility is needed; to maintain docility, a glance is needed; for this glance, sincerity is needed: sincerity — that is, good will.

Do you understand, then, the fundamental operation of your journey in the Christian life? Do you understand its simplicity? Do you see how, in the final analysis, only one provision is required to fulfil all that the message of the Incarnation contains? This is the plan of God and your agenda: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will” (Lk 2:14). Good will. This is the only thing asked by God and sung by the angels.

I do not doubt that you have good will. No, there can be no question of falsehood and cowardice between us. Let me point out to you the only obstacle, which clashes with the good will of beginners and of ignorant people. They want, as is said, to “nit-pick”; and when that is not possible, they wander to and fro without profit. At first you will be tempted to find a glance too simple, and you will complicate it, believing that more needs to be done. Instead of submitting, through the intimate glance, practically and effectively to the action of God, you will upset everything, in order to see more and to do better. This means you will be led to rely still more on your own action rather than on God’s. Have faith in the Saviour Who tells you, “he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Yes, follow Him through the interior glance; keep your eye fixed on it, and you will see opportunities for virtue present themselves, resolutions imposed, vices shaken, transformations taking place, and your life developing. You will feel yourself become a Christian by the grace of God.

Lived Christianity is available to buy on the Voice of the Family website.