EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
The examination of conscience is a Catholic dance move, it’s one that goes on secretly, it’s kind of like the pregame for mass, you go through these steps to make sure your groove is right and that you are bringing yourself to the floor with the right attitude of heart and mind. It’s about getting the right attitude mentally and emotionally and spiritually for what’s about to happen when you begin making all those signs of the cross and bows and kneels.
An examination of conscience is an essential part of Christian spirituality, whether you’re Catholic or catholic. (Because let’s be honest, no one wants to really be outside a church as awesome as the One, Holy, Catholic(meaning universal, but we can get into that later), and Apostolic Church.)
However, an examination of conscience is not an opportunity to get all caught up in all that “woe is me!” nonsense that can distract you from the real purpose of a good examination of conscience. The purpose of a good examination of conscience is not to behold your own sinfulness, but to behold where you’ve breached proper relationship with God and neighbor.
The difference between these two mindsets is incredibly important and not to be overlooked or taken lightly. What matters in the examination of conscience is not how closely i can nitpick and scrutinize myself, but how closely I can behold Christ in the midst of looking at myself both with and through Him. In 1 Corinthians 11 St. Paul talks about discerning the body so that we may eat worthily, and I suspect it is not only the mystery of the Lord’s body he is discussing, but also of each other, as the Body of the Lord. When we can come to the table having been restored by Christ, it is to celebrate His grace, and to remember His call to live in communion with God and neighbor.
So, in order to do a proper examination of conscience we start with the Ten Commandments, because those tend to cover most things. This will be slightly different from a general examination in that I wrote some of these questions myself and either added them to or substituted and combined other questions that fit together. I use this one, but have also added questions for those of you who might be married or have children.
1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
-Do I seek God in prayer?
-Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart and through the actions of my life?
-Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
-Do I surrender myself to God´s word as taught by the Church?
-Have I ever received communion in the state of mortal sin?
-Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
-Are there other gods in my life? Money, Security, Power? In what ways can I bring Christ’s lordship to the forefront of my spiritual life and my earthly desires?
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
-Have I used God´s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
-Have I not taken the resurrection or Christian hope seriously?
-Have I been complacent towards the duty of charity, or neglected being a peacemaker?
-Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord´s Day.
-Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
-Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
-Do I take seriously my own need for rest and spiritual communion with God and others?
4. Honor your father and your mother.
-Do I honor and obey my parents and the Church?
-Have I neglected my duties to my spouse, children or neighbors?
-Have I given my family and friends a good religious example?
-Do I try to bring peace into the lives of those around me?
-Do I care for the aged, the infirm, and the unborn with corporal acts of mercy?
5. You shall not kill.
-Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
-Have I physically harmed anyone?
-Have I enjoyed or approved of violence thoughtlessly? Have I supported a war without cause or too passionately?
-Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
-Have I been angry or resentful?
-Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
-Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization or self-harm?
-Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization, artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
-Have I carelessly approved of war or armed conflict?
-Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
6. You shall not commit adultery.
-Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
-Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
-Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
-Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new life as well as the communion essential to proper sexuality?
-Have I been guilty of masturbation or other sexual selfishness?
-Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations?
-Have I respected all members of the opposite sex as persons, or have I thought of other people as mere objects?
-Am I a seductive person, or do I live in such a way as to keep myself and others from temptation?
-Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words,actions?
-Am I careful to dress modestly and carry myself with dignity?
7. You shall not steal.
-Have I stolen what is not mine? Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
-Have I been guilty of excesses in either socialist/communist or capitalist practices?
-Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
-Do I gamble excessively, carry on too strong a social life, or work too much thereby denying my family of their need for me?
-Do I pay my debts promptly?
-Do I seek to share what I have with the poor? Do I give to the Church?
-Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
-Have I lied? Have I gossiped?Have I ruined the reputation of another person with slander?
-Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
-Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
-Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
-Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
-Have I injured the reputation of the faith by living it insincerely?
9. You shall not desire your neighbor´s wife.
-Have I consented to impure thoughts and desires?
-Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
-Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
-Have I taken my own relationships and friendships seriously as my opportunity for service and love?
10. You shall not desire your neighbor´s goods.
-Am I jealous of what other people have?
-Do I envy the families or possessions of others?
-Am I greedy or selfish?
-Are material possessions the purpose of my life?
That’s about it. After this, which you can do at home on the way to mass, in the Church while you wait your turn, or any time during the week, you might want to say a prayer. For some, the act of contrition prayer will do. For others, the liturgical prayer before confession will suffice. I personally enjoy St. Symeon the New Theologian’s prayer before confession:
O God and Lord of all! Who has the power over every breath and soul, the only One able to heal me, hearken unto the prayer of me, the wretched one! And, having put him to death, destroy the serpent nestling within me by the descent of the All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit. And vouchsafe me, poor and naked of all virtue, to fall with tears at the feet of my spiritual father, and call his holy soul to mercy, to have mercy on me.
And grant, O Lord, unto my heart humility and good thoughts, becoming a sinner, who hath consented to repent unto Thee, and do not abandon unto the end a single soul, which has united itself unto Thee and has confessed Thee, and instead of all the world has chosen Thee and has preferred Thee. For Thou knowest, O Lord, that I want to save myself, and that my evil habit is an obstacle. But all things are possible unto Thee, O Master, which are impossible for man. Amen.
So, for all of you non-Catholics out there, do you ever feel like you want to brush up on your know of Catholic dance moves? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Have you ever been in mass and then not known what comes next, but luckily had the person next to you to look to? Well, here’s the deal. Being Catholic is all about worship together, so it’s kinda like doing a toned down, sacred electric slide, in a sense.
I once had a friend say “Man, I feel like being Catholic is a dance party, and I just don’t have the right moves.” I never forgot those words. And so, in honor of my groove-challenged friend, and his inquiries into some dance skills, I have decided to provide. Ask and it shall be given, after all.
And seeing how Arcade Fire just took a grammy for Album of the Year, I think some congratulations are in order via a pictoral shoutout, and the dance-themed approach to this post, as well as a new sub-category called Dance Moves. I’ll be talking about the various practices of the mass and Catholic life, as dance school. It should be fun.
So, where does this “Sign of the Cross” come from?
Well, the earliest written source about the practice for the Sign of the Cross is Tertullian who wrote in the early Second Century.
“In all our travels and movements”, says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), “in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”.
Tertullian was a prolific writer and provides a lot of insight to us about Church practices in his day, but for him to pay attention to this detail means it must have been rather significant. Tertullian was a man concerned with refuting heresies and providing large and sweeping defenses of the faith, so that he picks up on enough to write about this means, to me, it must have been widespread from the earliest days of Christianity.
By the Fourth Century, the practice had become standard fare in all the Churches which bore the name Christian and we see this in the writings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who in his “Catecheses” (xiii, 36) remarks:
“let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest”.
Since we saw that from the earliest days of Christianity, the sign of the cross has been written about, signing one’s forehead is a practice which likely has apostolic origins. If not the apostles during the immediate recordings of the bible, then certainly the St. Peter who had seen God heal others through his shadow and the St. Paul who had seen the power of the Eucharist in action both for life, and in fact, for death as well.
In fact, when we look at scripture I believe that Revelation 7:3, 9:4, and 14:1 are referring to the practice of signing oneself on the forehead with a little cross. In the scriptures the redeemed are “signed on the forehead”. Of course, the imagery comes from Ezekiel 9:4 where the faithful are sealed upon their foreheads with a mark of redemption. And it also reminds us of passover, and how the mind and the heart were the household of the soul in many ancient cultures.
The Dance Moves
So, let’s talk dance moves. How does one make a good sign of the cross?
First, one approaches it with prayer. This is an action to seal us, to remind us of baptism and to protect us against evil. It reminds us that the God we serve is none other than the Father, who freely gives the Son so that we might be reborn in their Spirit.
Either under your breath, out loud or in your mind you should pray “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” or you should pray as Mexican Catholics do “By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.”
Either is acceptable.Though it doesn’t hurt to pray both. Or a third which is common among rosary devotees:
By your Cross O Christ, You have redeemed the world.
or a Fourth, common among the Orthodox Christians:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
There are four options for your hands when making the Sign of the Cross. These four I got off of Fish Eaters
- Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
- Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
- Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.
- Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers — representing the 5 Wounds of Christ — together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm
Disco Devotionals? Well, Not Exactly.
Once you have chosen a hand position this is what follows:
Touch your forehead as you say or pray mentally, “In the name of the Father,”
Touch your breastbone, heart or the top of your belly and say or pray mentally “And of the Son”
Begin to touch your left shoulder as you say or pray mentally “And of the Holy”
Touch your right shoulder and finish the Sign of the Cross with “Spirit” either prayed out loud or mentally.
Hold on there Disco Stu:
There’s a bit more to all this than just frantically crossing yourself or the air or whatever else as often as possible. Though, I’m sure it can’t hurt anything, at least not very much.
As Christians, making the sign of the cross should be like breathing, essential to daily life. Christians should make the sign of the cross at the beginning and the end of their prayers, upon entering a Church, after receiving communion, in times of trouble, or fear, when facing temptation, when one remembers the dead, when seeing a crucifix, or anytime we wish to ward away evil, or to honor and invoke God.
Making the sign of the cross is an invitation to getting groovy with God. It’s an invitation to remembering the core of your life and my life as Christians. It’s all about remembering holiness, and getting centered so that we can be holy. It’s a devotional tool, a prayer that reminds us from Whom we proceed into this great wide world. It reminds us to act ☩ in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder that religion can have dance moves outside Church, and that those moves can be used in daily life for extremely practical as well as devotional/spiritual reasons.
Remember to take your time, it’s not about rushing through it, it’s about making sure we center our minds and bodies on Christ, Our God, who calls us to eternal life. The Sign of the Cross is not only the most obviously Catholic dance move, it’s also the most popular in movies, media and everywhere else for a reason. Christians love the cross, and everything it means for the way we are sanctified and live, even right now.
Welcome to being Catholic, I hope these dance moves help you too.