Ignatian Spiritual Direction in the Examination of Conscience
In Spiritual Direction and Christian Counselinga critical way to help one determine one’s
primary sins and failings is via examination of conscience. This technique of self evaluation is an important Christian tool in preparing one, if Catholic, for Reconciliation, or for a variety of other spiritual exercises that aim towards Christian perfection. This article is in relation to Ignatian Spirituality and will focus on the methodologies of St. Ignatius Loyola in examining one’s conscience.
In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius focuses on cleaning one’s soul from malice and sin. His approach is methodical, intense and detailed. It can be likened to that of a physical diet or physical fitness plan but for the purification of the soul. In it, St. Ignatius points out the particular examination and the general examination. We will briefly look at both.
The start of the particular examination coincides with the start of the day. In corresponds with the morning offering as one offers his or her day to God. The morning focus should pin point what particular vice one wants to work on and avoid. Around Noon, one should document in a notebook his progress. For the particular day, the top line represents the first half of the day and the second line represents the second half. One should number the amount of times one has failed the first half. In the evening, one would also document the number of failures during the second half of the day and compare if there has been progress. During the day, St. Ignatius also encourages one when they do fail to gently touch there breast in contrite remorse and say the name of Jesus. This procedure continues throughout the day and following weeks with documentation from hour to hour, day to day and finally week to week. This intense documentation trains one to constantly focus on the removal of the vice, noting failures and successes.
When focusing on the overall day and not just the particular vice in question, St. Ignatius recommends three categories of contemplation. First one should reflect on one’s thoughts. Did one deflect sinful thoughts? Was it a struggle to do so? Second, one should reflect on words. Were the words said against God or creature? Were the words in private or public? Finally, one should reflect on all deeds. He simply points out that one should correlate all actions with the Ten Commandments and see if the deeds of the day contradict God’s law or not.
In general examination, one is not focusing on a particular vice or documenting one’s daily spiritual progress but reviewing the overall activity of the soul. In this case, the penitent should first thank God for all blessings and ask God for the grace to identify vice and correct it. The penitent should then give an itemized account of one’s actions day to day and week from week if possible. Of course all actions are placed before the criteria of the commandments. The final two stops involve an act of contrition for pardon of past sins and a firm resolution to amend one’s life.
Christian Counselors can help spiritual children conduct these exercises of self examination. As a counselor one must look at the person with kindness and understanding void of judgment or condemnation. The role in Christian Counseling is to find improvement in these exercises and bring forth spiritual health and remove spiritual vice.
Also if you would like to learn how to enroll in a Christian Counseling Certification Program, please review it.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C