Examining the Conscience

My New Year’s Resolution was to get back in a better habit of daily prayer, particularly the St. Bridget Prayers, and I have been lately overcome by the repentance and awareness that comes with such efforts.  It seems like every day this past few weeks, something comes up on my Facebook feed like this article on what constitutes “serious sin,” or particular posts regarding sins I know I have or have previously had on my conscience.

One story that hit close to home, though I’m sure it’s dubious for a number of reasons (first and foremost that we are not supposed to listen to “messages from Hell”) is one a saint told of a monk who had committed some sin in his adolescence and been so prideful (his real sin) that he never confessed it (then sacrilegiously confessed and went to Communion).  He developed a reputation for piety, like Hawthorne’s Rev. Dimmesdale, and his fear for his reputation led him to repeatedly conceal this sin in the confessional.  He kept thinking “one day I will confess” until he was struck ill and could no longer do it.  When he died, the monastery was preparing his funeral and he allegedly appeared to the Abbot and said to stop praying for him because he was in Hell.  Although I know I have confessed fully on many occasions, I still felt identification with that story.

I know on the night of my aortic dissection that the demons were there to drag me into Hell, quite gleefully, because I had neglected the Confessional for over a month and had sinned that very night, committing the additional sin of presumption that I could confess the next day.  I screamed for God’s Mercy, and they left, and I confessed to the priest in the ER a few hours later.  I improved some of my behaviors over the next two years but still had some bad habits (still do).  Then, in April of 2013, while I was in the ICU, and even after making a thorough Confession, I went through a deep “ICU psychosis” that was in many ways a deeply spiritual experience, truly one of the “passive nights” described by John of the Cross.  I saw how many of my inclinations and impure thoughts, bad habits, and such were just as bad as committing the worst sins in their categories.  I came out of the experience feeling like I had been purged of a great many problems, and I was, but now I just keep plunging deeper and deeper into things.

The other night, after reading the above article, I was overwhelmed with guilt and disgust at the fundamental sin that permeates our culture. Then, Adam Shaw, FOX News’s video game reviewer turned anti-Pope Francis attack dog, wrote this piece claiming the Pope is leading a “War on Aspiration,” and I thought, “Isn’t that what every Christian should be doing?”  Aren’t we supposed to aspire to be Saints?  Aren’t we supposed to *not* aspire to worldly fame and fortune and “success”?

St. Joan of Arc was asked at her “trial” (which of course was not conducted nor sanctioned by the official Inquisiton) if she believed herself to be in a state of grace.  It was a Pharisaical trap: if she said, “no,” they’d say she was admitting to witchcraft; if she said, “yes,” they would say she was prideful.  So she replied, “If I am, may God keep me there; If I am not, may God put me there.”

We must never endanger our souls with pride and presumption.

Please make sure to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, even for venial sins.  Remember: the Pope goes every week.  It breaks my heart to think of anyone suffering eternally.

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