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A Beacon Of Light… Examination Of Conscience And The Chaos Of Our Times

September 8, 2020 Frontpage No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He is currently the parochial vicar of St. Andrew Parish in Colchester and St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Lebanon. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + This week we begin our examination of conscience. Together we will see where we are participating in the chaos of our times. In doing so, we will be able to make necessary changes to help eradicate this chaos.
    Remember a good Catholic examination of conscience can be a great help in making a new start in the life of faith. We use an examination of conscience to help call to mind our sins and failings during a period of quiet reflection before approaching the priest in Confession.
    It’s important for a good Catholic examination of conscience to be thorough. This will help us learn about things that we may not be aware of. It’s also a chance to develop our consciences. This is a critical aid for the life of the Catholic. We need to have an informed conscience, meaning that we are well versed in the teachings of the Church and live a good moral life.
    Let us begin our examination of conscience together. As we reflect on the First Commandment: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before me.” I am reminded of the Scripture passage in St. Mark’s Gospel where it says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
    If we are to examine this Commandment, we must first know who God is. To help us understand who God is, let us return to the First Vatican Council. The First Vatican Council (Concilium Vaticanum Primum) was convoked by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1868. After a period of planning and preparation the council began on December 8, 1864. As stated by the First Vatican Council: “The Catholic Church believes that there is one true and living God, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, Almighty, Eternal, Immense, Incomprehensible, Infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection; who, being One, Individual, altogether simple and unchangeable.”
    Every time we pray the Nicene Creed, we are professing our belief in One God.
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 199, helps us to understand this better. “I believe in God”: This first affirmation of the Creed is also the most fundamental. The whole Creed speaks of God, and when it also speaks of man and of the world it does so in relation to God. The other articles of the Creed all depend on the first, just as the remaining Commandments make the first explicit. The other articles help us to know God better as He revealed Himself progressively to men. “The faithful first profess their belief in God.”

False Gods

Now that we understand who God is, we can understand the First Commandment. This Commandment forbids idolatry, the worship of false gods and goddesses, and it excludes polytheism, the belief in many gods, insisting instead on monotheism, the belief in one God. This Commandment forbids making golden calves, building temples to Isis, and worshipping statues of Caesar, for example.
When Moses received the Commandments, God instructed the people to worship Him alone. He was to be their God. They were to stop adoring other false pagan gods, and to worship Him alone. God went so far as to tell them His name. He said: “I AM, WHO AM!” Sadly, the Israelite people fell into despair and soon returned to their false gods by worship of the molten golden calf.
What are some of the other ways we fail in keeping this Commandment? What about involvement in occult practices like witchcraft, Ouija boards, séances, palm reading, tarot cards, hypnotism, black magic, and sorcery? Other ways we fail regarding the First Commandment could include: apostasy (leaving the Church), adherence to a schismatic group, participating in horoscopes, good luck charms, joining the Masons or other secret societies.
Another sin that is often overlooked today is the sin of sacrilege. Sacrilege is when we receive the Lord in Holy Communion while in the state of mortal sin. (Remember that mortal sins are grave matter, we know the particular act is gravely wrong, and we consent to doing it anyway.) Receiving the Sacraments of Confirmation, Matrimony, or Holy Orders while in a state of mortal sin is also sacrilegious.
Today marriage is undergoing a struggle in society. Couples are often married by a justice of the peace or by a minister of another denomination. Doing this without the proper dispensation of the Church causes a couple to fail in living this Commandment. Participation in false or pagan worship, such as Satanic Rituals or Black Masses, also violates the First Commandment. Sometimes in the struggles of life we can get discouraged. Often these struggles spill over into our spiritual life, causing one to denying the faith of the Catholic Church. This falls under this Commandment as well.
Presumption, or committing a mortal sin with the idea that you can just go to Confession: This often happens to people who have difficulty with a habitual sin. They presume the graces of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and continue in the sin. Often the presence of habitual sin is an indication of possible underlying issues. In this instance, it is recommended to seek out one’s parish priest to assist in discerning what the underlying issue might be.
Buying or selling of spiritual things is connected to this Commandment as well. Recently, I was reminded of this because I was having a yard sale. In my collection of material goods, I have accumulated many religious articles including statues. At my yard sale I put these religious articles out and people were invited to offer a donation to help the poor.
What about failure to receive Holy Communion at least once per year? (If possible, during the Easter Season.) This is also important in our reflection.
Desecration of the Holy Eucharist is a most serious sin. What do we mean by this? Well today, there are active satanic groups who actively seek to obtain and desecrate the Holy Eucharist. Our part in this could be something like receiving Holy Communion and not consuming the Lord, but rather waiting until later. Another way we could desecrate the Lord is by burning the Sacred Host. Any kind of action that is done to not show reverence due to the Lord could fall under this Commandment.
Wow! There are a lot of incidents where we could fail in living this Commandment. The above is only a set of examples to assist us in examining our own conscience. Remember that our reason for doing the examination of conscience is to grow in the spiritual life.
We also see how we are participating in the chaos happening around us. By thinking of these sins, we can then help fix those problems.

Progress Slowly

Where do we go from here? After reading this column, we are now encouraged to set aside 10 to 15 minutes at the end of our day to reflect and examine our words and actions for the day. See where we struggled in living this Commandment. What caused the struggle? How can we fix the problem and not repeat it again tomorrow?
The daily examination of conscience helped me to be a better penitent, but it also helped me to be a better confessor. When someone approaches the confessional, I know they are seeking to grow in the spiritual life. My responsibility is to challenge every penitent, as I challenge myself, to live a better spiritual life.
Doing an examination of conscience might be hard at first, but don’t give up! Some of the greatest saints offer advice for us as we open ourselves to conversion of heart.
St. Francis De Sales was one of these. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis reminds his readers of the need to progress slowly. The spiritual life is a journey and it takes time. St. Francis was fond of reminding his people to take baby steps.
We are striving to be saints; we are not there yet. Hopefully, our participation in this examination of conscience will move us closer to where God is calling us to be. We are but pilgrims on a journey of faith, seeking to be saints!

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