Why you should start examining your conscience each night
Lent is our time to be with Jesus in the desert, to fast for “forty days and forty nights.” (Matthew 4:2) Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he, in his humanity, experienced weakness, hunger and temptation. These are the same trials we all undergo in our lives. Jesus was fully human, like us in all things except sin. This is part of the mystery of the Incarnation — the Son of God suffers with us as the Son of Man. Jesus can identify with each of us in our hunger, and we can identify with him in his hunger.
The catechism states, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (CCC 540) Jesus’ fasting in the desert was a preparation for his public ministry, and his passion and death. And so it is with the church. Lent is preparation for us, readying us for Good Friday and Easter. It is also a stark reminder of our own mortality. On Ash Wednesday, we place ashes on our foreheads to remind ourselves that we too, one day, will die. We face our mortality, saying “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Yet, is not each day and night a microcosm of our entire life? In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection.
What is more important at the end of life, at the doorstep of death, than to review your life and ask forgiveness for all you have done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not also seek to examine our lives and ask forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come — it may be in 50 years or in 50 minutes. Jesus warned that the end may come at an hour we do not expect, so we must be always vigilant and ready.
But how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain obedient to the church, receive the sacraments, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds — in short, we must love God and our neighbor. These practices contribute to a well-formed conscience, which allows us to understand how we regularly fall short of God’s will for us and are in constant need of his forgiveness.
Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, everything that we said or did, or failed to do, for good or for bad. After examining our day, we should pray an act of contrition (see box). For the more serious sins, the mortal sins, we should go quickly to the sacrament of reconciliation.
Lent is our time in the desert with Jesus. We should hunger for righteousness and holiness. But, unlike Jesus, we are not perfect, and we fall into sin each day. We should examine our consciences each night, acknowledge where we fell, and ask forgiveness in our hearts and in the confessional.
We should strive to be always prepared for the moment when our bodies return to dust and our souls appear before the judgment seat of the Lord, so that, after our sojourn in this earthly wilderness, we can hope to awaken to eternal life in heaven.
Traditional Act of Contrition
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you, and I detest all my sins because of your just punishments, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.
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