What follows is an example of a tool for examination of conscience. Such tools can be elaborate or simple. I hope to review a number of self-examinations through this blog in the coming weeks as we prepare for what George Herbert calls the “Dear Feast of Lent.”
This particular self-examination is meant for clergy, though it doesn’t take much adaptation to make it quite useful for laypersons. It takes the form of eight brief sections with a few specific considerations in each. Some of them are expected (prayer life, for example), but others are rather more surprising (how seriously am I repelling the first suggestions of sin in my daily life?).
Noting our responses to each and then taking time to journal or reflect on what these questions elicit can form an excellent preparation for a private confession as part of Evening Prayer (say), or (as in this case) a sacramental confession with a priest.
If we want a healthier Church with healthier witness to Christ, it is essential that we provide and encourage the use of sound tools for ascetic training. The current state of affairs suggests these ancient practices should be renewed in our day.
I. My daily prayers? Meditation? Preparation and thanksgiving when celebrating? Daily Office? Spiritual reading? Daily examination of conscience? First and last thoughts of the day?
II. My rule of confession? Preparation for confession? Contrition? Amendment of life?
III. Profit from my communions? Remembrance of them during the day and week?
IV. Administration of sacraments: Punctual? With care? Edifying?
V. Sermons prayerfully prepared? Focused on the texts? Misuse of my own personal struggles through the pulpit? Parish visiting? Care of children? The sick?
VI. Temperance: In food? In drink? Charity? Envy? Detraction? Sharpness in rebuke? Chastity? Custody of thought? Repelling first suggestions and temptations? Desire? Looks? Words? Deeds?
VII. Have I kept my rule of life?
VIII. What about my besetting sin?
[Adapted from The Priest’s Book of Private Devotion
, 1960 edition.]
The Unity of the Church is not an “extra.” It is essential for effective ministry. Each year, we pray for that unity to grow and deepen in our divided Christian witness. Each year the week of prayer will begin with the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle and concludes with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, thus emphasizing the unity of these two Apostles (who were both martyred in the persecution under Nero) and connecting the primacy of Peter (favored by many Roman Catholics) with the liberty of conscience so championed by Paul (favored by many Protestants) into one whole offering of prayer, praise, and mission.
During this time we are all called to remember that the division between Christians is perhaps the greatest scandal and failing among us. It so deeply vitiates the witness of the Gospel in many places that no amount of evangelism or church-growth efforts will suffice. We must overcome our divisions.
To do this, we need only turn to our own baptism. In recognizing all those who are baptized with water in the Name of the Trinity as fellow Christians, the modern Episcopal Church has taken a great step toward a basic unity with other traditions. The Apostolic Faith we emphasize is fully sufficient to meet the need, providing both the essential saving message of Salvation and the necessary humbling of our various “traditions” so we may live out Our Lord’s call to bring the Gospel to all peoples.
This work must be done in prayer and in the hearts of individual believers as well as in wider settings and groups. Until we understand that division in the Church is a sin and a violation of our baptismal covenant, and until we accept that unity comes not from institutional or bureaucratic initiatives but from participation in the Unity of the Triune God, the present fractured condition of the Church will remain the hideous and shameful wrong it is. Only prayer can overcome this.
This following prayers are traditionally offered in the mid-morning, recalling the hour of Pentecost when the Church was given the Holy Spirit so that it might accomplish its mission in unity and love. They may also be part of your morning or evening prayers during this week, and as part of our preparation for the Holy Eucharist.
A Memorial for Visible Unity in the Christian Faith
Antiphon: Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself.
V. O pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
R. They shall prosper that love you.
Grant, we pray you, Almighty God, to the whole Christian people unity, peace, and true concord, both visible and invisible; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to your will; who lies and reigns God for ever and ever. Amen.
For the Church (BCP p. 816)
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.
For the Unity of the Church (BCP p. 818)
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Unity of the Church (BCP p. 255)
Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.