So many times, in a world suffering so much hurt and so much pain, the need for healing and comfort seems overwhelming. And in a highly secularized world, the traditions and strategies of Catholicism can seem simultaneously quaint and irrelevant. Still, the emphasis on self-awareness and mindfulness seem echoes of practices a thousand years old.
At the conclusion of each afternoon in our NYC Catholic school, students and faculty would rise for the announcements. There was a quiet moment for examination of conscience when not a pin drop was heard in the crowded classrooms. And, then, together the recitation of the Act of Contrition, a public acknowledgment of the personal need to improve.
Living authentically demands a deep sense of integrity and a real acknowledgment of others, of the persons who inhabit our lives. It means realizing that the world, that life, is not about self, and in fact, as a person, each has responsibilities to others. The practice of examination of conscience actually enables an individual to get in touch with the successes and failures of a day, to identify goals and direction for the future and to be conscious of the impact of one person upon others. That sort of reflection, long imbedded in Catholic tradition, is an invitation to process the rigors of daily life and to perceive the nuances of self and other. It invites a deeper understanding of busy lives and suggests the possibilities that there can be, and are, better ways to live, better choices to make.
Rather than wallowing in the oft-mentioned “Catholic guilt”, it is possible to move forward with the practice to simply live more attentively to life itself. Examination of conscience encourages and empowers an individual to make different choices, to forgive self and others, and to see the personal journey as one deeply embedded in the mainstream of humanity. It is with the kiss of acknowledgment rather than the curse of judgment, something crafted to enable gracious growth on the journey of life, something that imparts the age-old wisdom that learning is lifelong and no one, nothing, is perfect.
There are moments now when vigorous living consumes every bit of time and energy. Catholicism’s invitation to examine life is like putting things on pause for a moment, like taking a deep breath, like remembering for a moment who and why we are really here. And that is one of the great treasures of being at home.