As many people will be aware the daily Universal Prayer of the Church, otherwise known as the Divine Office, finishes each day with Compline, or Night Prayer. Aside of the hymn the prayers, reading and Gospel Canticle, there is a free text opportunity for anyone praying Compline to pause and consider the day that has just passed. It is suggested that this is achieved by undertaking a short Examination of Conscience – if you like, a quick review of how the day has gone. The ups and downs, the trials and tribulations and the successes and challenges.
But how do I go about this?
I might be used to engaging occasionally with an Examination of Conscience and this most commonly will be hopefully in preparing to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I might, in more ‘normal’ times, also encounter an Examination of Conscience during a penitential or preparatory service during either the seasons of Lent or Advent. Whether I use a prepared script, or just allow my own thoughts to freely flow, the outcome should be the same – a chance to reflect and recognise how my life is going, and hopefully, where Christ fits into my life.
I remember that some time ago I was asked to prepare a penitential service for a group of youth leaders who were on a retreat leading up to Easter. In shaping the service we talked about the different prayers and readings that might be used to set the right mood for reflection. Part of the conversation also included a discussion about how the Examination of Conscience would be structured. The biggest thing that I remember being asked was, “Please don’t make it negative!”
We might be forgiven for thinking that by the very nature of thinking about what things in my life haven’t gone as right as we wanted them to, that will be a negative experience. But that surely depends on our attitude and response, plus how I would/do approach conducting an Examination of Conscience.
When we are looking to consider how we live our life in Christ, it is important to remember that we are simply asked to do our best. Our best to follow the command of Love God, and Love my Neighbour. In doing so we assist in bringing Christ into our world. It may be that we try our best, but due to circumstances we find ourselves in, we don’t quite reach the point we want to.
But have I tried my best?
Have I done all I could to try and bring Christ into my world?
Did I approach the day with the best of intentions?
So as we can see the answer isn’t always negative.
I often find that the pre-prepared scripts used for an Examination of Conscience focus on the principle of every time I have actively done something that turns me away from the Love of God, then this is what should be included in my Examination. It intimates that in my life I almost deliberately set out to turn away from God the Father. On very rare occasions this could be the case, but I feel that most of us fall short of our desire to live the right way not because we set out to, but because we don’t think about what we are doing.
If we are to come closer to God and try to rectify our shortcomings, we need to realise that we have to keep trying, and this is achieved by recognising where we can improve on what we have already done. This of course implies that when we look at our day, we say to ourselves “I tried that, but I can do it better”. To my mind if we start with the point of ‘I have’, rather than ‘I haven’t’ then we have a positive rather than negative approach.
This is probably a good way in which I should replicate how I live my life in Christ.
Is my attitude to life positive or negative?
Should my aim to bring Christ into the world be focused on ‘I have tried to’, or ‘I haven’t done’?
I invite you to try both ways and see which works for you. A positive approach, a positive life, a positive world.
Deacon Ian Black