Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Advent Examination of Conscience

An examination of conscience is very important, but the term is not one I use much. I once thought it required me to mentally castigate and punish myself for everything I did wrong, and since as a child I had learned that I was incapable of doing good, I had a hard time getting past the need to accuse myself of the sin of existing. Bad theology really messes with the mind.

So instead I find it helpful to review my day and look for where I experienced God most profoundly, and how it changed my day, and how it needs to still change my day.

Today, that was fairly easy. The first whaabang was in praying the Office of Readings this morning, especially in the reading from St. Augustine. The readings about St. John the Baptist almost always strike me very profoundly, because God gave me a personal gift of a St. John in my life. This line especially: "We should take our lesson from St. John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory." I could never really put into words how that made me weep, but consider how not only easy but common it is for one person to take advantage of another, but what an act of love and honor of God it is to choose to humble oneself rather than hurt another person. And how rare that is. For a person to put the honor of God even above how they wish to be received by another or what advantage they want for themselves -- that is a big deal. And when I could have truly been used, I instead encountered this witness of honoring God. Today I wept in gratitude for that. And I know that those tears washed yet clearer the true image of what I was spiritually perceiving.

The other moment was at Mass, while singing the communion hymn. I thought of how grateful, how content, how peaceful I am, not because everything is perfect, but because I was there with the Lord who has given me so much, has set so much at rights, has surrounded me, provided me with everything I need to be happy. I have no blind eye turned to what could be better, but that is so much my natural inclination -- seeing the problems, seeing the lacks -- that it is so beautiful to me to just say "I am here, and it is good." It is God's love that fills me and enables me to be grateful, satisfied, peaceful. And love bubbles from me and seeks others. That is not natural to me, and I know it full well.

I did other things throughout the day, I got tired, I began to take on other people's emotions. I had an interesting extended experience of thinking about who I was 20 years ago as I finished watching a video I took when I lived in Japan. Listening to myself talk (so sarcastic, so pain-sopped, so disconnected from other people) was deeply cringeworthy, as my son put it. I faced other aspects of my life that are problematic.

But then I thought, examination of conscience: go back to where I experienced God, not my own misery. With God, He teaches me to have mercy on my old self, understanding the pain that motivated me, while honoring the courage. It is a recipe for every day, and not only for myself. Have understanding for the pain that is behind others' actions, too, honor the courage with which they act nonetheless.

But mostly, nothing trumps being with Jesus. He gives the best gifts. Sometimes it takes us years to fully appreciate them. Every pain we pass through in pursuit of Him is worth it. He promises us the difficulties, but he also promises the hundred fold. I have been so silly, but He keeps being more and more generous to me. All I can offer Him is all of me, anything and everything that He wants. Just want He wants of me. I am convinced that no matter what it is, it will always be the best possible thing.

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