In my visits to various Religious communities, I noticed that many Religious Sisters make a personal examination of conscience at the same time every day. Many use a meditation which involves asking the Holy Spirit for guidance as they reflect on their thoughts, words, and actions of that particular day. Each sister would think about one vice she needed to be rid of, or one virtue that she would pray and strive to develop. She would focus on that one virtue for the week, taking time each day to reflect on her progress. She is encouraged to ask herself: *
- Were there times when I was successful?
- What actions, events or attitudes led up to the success?
- Were there times where I could have done better?
- What actions, events or attitudes led up to my shortcoming?
If we don’t take the time to reflect on what “triggers” temptation and sin, it can feel as though sinful impulses “sneak up” on us. It is important to consider what precedes our inclinations to habitual sins, such as impure thoughts or actions. Sometimes it can be an image, a conversation, a memory or daydream that causes a shift in our mood and makes us more vulnerable to temptation. The “trigger” may not be evil per se, but it may be harmful to our psychological or emotional wellbeing, which if left unchecked may lead to sin.
If we notice a pattern of events or emotions which frequently lead up to sin, we can find ways to interrupt that cycle before the sin overcomes us in the moment. For example, if I suddenly feel lonely, I may be tempted to turn inward at myself, and fall into despair that would lead me to sin. However, if I feel lonely and begin to reflect on Jesus’ loneliness in the garden of Gethsemane, I may instead unite my little heart to the sorrowful and Precious Heart of Jesus. In other words, I can use these feelings to draw closer to God, instead of turning away. Another strategy may be to communicate with God while performing a simple task that you enjoy.** Some of the things I have felt helpful in the midst of trial or temptation have been:
- Taking a walk outside, listening to the birds, and speaking to God from my heart.
- Writing and reflecting in a journal.
- Praying the Memorare or the Saint Michael Prayer***
- Baking Bread (Baking is both therapeutic and delicious)
If you don’t already, I highly recommend making a structured or informal examination of conscience part of your daily routine. Not only will it help you prepare for your next visit to the confessional, but it may also help you to better avoid the “near occasion of sin” in the present moment.
*This is not a direct quote from any such meditation. I am mostly relying on my faulty memory
** Ask your Confessor about specific ways to avoid temptations that you struggle with.
*** Memorare to our Lady: Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
Memorare to St. Joseph: Remember, O most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who implored your help and sought your intercession were left unassisted. Full of confidence in your power I fly unto you and beg your protection. Despise not O Guardian of the Redeemer my humble supplication, but in your bounty, hear and answer me. Amen.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell satan and all evil spirits who prowl through the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
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