An Examination of Conscience for the End of Each Day

Evening Review
At some point in the day, usually at the end of it, we can prayerfully ask ourselves:
What have I offered to God this particular day?
For what am I grateful? What are the gifts God has given me? What offerings have I given to God?
For what am I sorry?
What have I given to God that is not worthy of Him?

The Ignatian Examen
One of the most regularly given pieces of advice in the history of Christian spirituality is the regular examination of conscience. Many people do it just before going to confession. But Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommends that we make it a daily prayer by reserving about ten to fifteen minutes at the close of each day, or at some other moment when we can steal a bit of quiet from our busy schedules.
Begin, he urges, with a moment of gratitude, and try to be specific – think of something about the day that is just past, or about something in your life for which you are grateful, and say a word of thanks to God. We often talk about counting our blessings, but actually stopping to give God thanks for some of his particular blessings can easily escape us, despite our best intentions.
Then ask of God the light by which to see your life as He wants you to see it. This request for His light is most important in making the examination of conscience into a genuine prayer, and not just another self-help technique, done purely by our own willpower. Even the best of us has some areas of our life we’d rather not look at, and others we can’t stop gazing upon. Given our enormous powers of rationalization, we need God’s help in coming to see ourselves truthfully as He sees us.
Third, make an account of all your actions and attitudes in the course of the day just past. This is likely to be the longest portion of the examination of conscience. If one perseveres in doing it faithfully, day after day in the Lord’s light, it can reveal the patterns of sin as well as the patterns of grace in one’s life.
Some portions of the day can be reviewed quickly, like a videocassette on fast-forward, but over certain moments we will do well to pause and go slowly, watching to see what triggered what. With God’s grace we can notice where things like impatience and anger start and how they grow. And we can come to see just how God’s grace may have protected us from jealousy or gossiping. We can take note of just what those “near occasions of sin” really look like, so that we can avoid them a little better tomorrow and not just excuse ourselves from what takes too much effort to change. The standard by which to judge what we have done will always remain the Ten Commandments, especially when recast by Jesus as the two great commandments about love of God and love of neighbor.
Many people feel the inclination to play the tape over and over again during the course of the day after some angry encounter, or something they are ashamed of. But this inclination to replay the tape often does no good, and may even be harmful if we start subtly changing the scenario so as to come out a little better we consider the matter while the other guy comes off a bit worse. It is usually better to treat the inclination to replay these tapes during the day as if they were temptations. Resolve instead to wait until you get to your prayerful examination of conscience, and only then to allow yourself to review the matter under the Lord’s light so as to see the situation in truth and charity.
Charting a course
The fourth step is to chart a course, whether it be to continue the course you’re already on, or to correct your course when you’ve strayed. If your account of the actions and attitudes of the day has alerted you to anything of sin, you will be all the more prepared for your next confession and can make an Act of Contrition right on the spot. If you find that things have gone well, you will have ready-to-hand-something to be especially grateful for when you begin your next examination of conscience.
The final portion of this short prayer is to ask God for the energy and enthusiasm to carry out the course just charted. In all honesty, we cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try. But we cannot fail if we take the help God is so eager to offer.
This method for the examination of conscience is easy to remember by the letters in the word “GRACE.”
Request for God’s light
Account of Actions and Attitudes
Chart your Course, whether by continuing on course or correcting it, and
Entreat God for energy and enthusiasm.

Adapted from Fr. Joseph W. Koterski, S.J.
Reprinted from MAGNIFICAT, July 2003, Vol. 5, No. 5, pp. 409-412