It is important for Catholics to undertake an examination of conscience, as it helps them realize sins and patterns of sins they may be prone to. An examination of conscience is a prayerful analysis and reaction to our actions to identify how we may fall short of God’s teachings. Learn more about how a simple examination of conscience can strengthen our relationship with God.
Why Is It Important for a Catholic to Undertake an Examination of Conscience?
A Catholic examination of conscience involves reflecting on one’s actions, thoughts and deeds to identify areas in life where sin is present. While we all strive to live a life following His grace and teaching, we are still human, meaning we are imperfect and will sin. The important aspect of this is analyzing our conscience, identifying sin, confessing and seeking forgiveness and penance.
With a thorough examination of conscience, we can reflect through prayer on our faith and actions, helping us understand ways to grow and heal. The Conscience of examination also helps us identify individual sins or patterns of sins we may be prone to but do not recognize. As we determine our sinful ways, we can make the most out of receiving the Sacrament of Penance, also referred to as Reconciliation or Confession.
When we go to confession, the very thoughts and sins we identify through a simple examination of conscience can become the confessions we make to our priest when seeking forgiveness. Before we can celebrate in the Sacrament of Penance and seek God’s forgiveness, we must look inward and understand our wrongdoings and sins.
We are all responsible for our sins, and our conscience helps us identify when we have sinned so that we may seek God’s forgiveness. A functioning and healthy conscience must be well-formed, meaning we must tend to it and ensure we listen to it when reflecting on our actions.
Everyone has a moral obligation to ensure their conscience is well-formed, which is a lifelong process of praying, reading the Scripture and living a life closer to God. The Scripture is an excellent tool that provides seemingly endless moral lessons, helping us better our conscience and renounce our sinning ways.
Additionally, we should also regularly attend Mass and listen closely to the sermons, which help us lead a life closer to God. A well-formed conscience is assisted through theological virtues of charity, hope and faith and the cardinal virtues of justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.
An Examination of Conscience for the Ten Commandments
One way to examine your conscience is to consider the Ten Commandments. Each commandment provides a fundamental aspect of the Catholic faith, teaching us how to follow the righteous path and turn our backs on sin.
First Commandment: “I Am the Lord Your God, You Shall Not Have Strange Gods Before Me.”
The first commandment tells us that we shall believe in the one, true God and worship no other. We should not idolize money or material possessions, and we certainly should not put our faith in other false gods. When considering the first commandment, you may want to ask yourself these questions to examine your conscience:
- Have I denied or turned my back on God?
- Do I idolize any other being or material item?
- Am I ashamed of or do I deny my faith?
- Have I indulged in any superstitious acts?
Second Commandment: “Do Not Take the Name of the Lord in Vain.”
We should never take the Lord’s name in vain out of anger or fear. To use the Lord’s name in vain is to speak ill of God, using his name for a foul or worthless purpose. Instead, we should only use the Lord’s name in prayer or during any action where we are spreading His word or expressing our love to Him.
When you examine your conscience for sins against the second commandment, ask yourself:
- Do I use God’s name out of anger or surprise?
- When I speak the Lord’s name, is it in a careless manner?
- Do I use God’s name as a joke?
Third Commandment: “Keep Holy the Sabbath Day.”
The Sabbath Day is an important day where we should attend Mass and spread the Gospel of the Lord. Each week, we should show thanks and appreciation for all of God’s gifts He provides us. While it is understandable that we may occasionally miss a Mass for an emergency, we should always prioritize attending Mass and sharing in the glory of God.
When examining your conscience, you should consider these questions related to the third commandment:
- Do I go to Mass regularly?
- Do I support the Church?
- Do I spread the Word of God?
- Do I prioritize the Sabbath and other Holy Days of Obligation?
- Am I often late to Mass?
- Do I ever disrupt Mass unintentionally or intentionally?
- Do I pay attention during Mass?
Fourth Commandment: “Honor Your Father and Mother.”
Honoring our parents is of the utmost importance because they gave us life, and we owe our very existence to God and our parents. Even though adoptive parents may not have provided us with physical life, they have loved and nurtured us as much as they could. Whether we have a perfect relationship with our parents or not, we owe them respect and honor.
When considering your relationship with your parents, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Do I treat my parents with respect?
- Am I rude, unkind or impatient with my parents?
- Do I help my parents?
- Do I pray for my parents’ well-being?
- Am I respectful to all of my elders?
- Do I appreciate the sacrifices my parents have made for me?
- Do I try to understand my parents instead of being discourteous to them?
Fifth Commandment: “You Shall Not Kill.”
God loves all of His creations, and we should never deliberately harm another person or animal. We must treat all of God’s creations with respect, love and admiration, for God made each of His creations perfect. We should never seek to cause harm to any of God’s creatures.
When considering the fifth commandment, you may want to ask yourself some of these questions:
- Have I ever purposefully hurt another person’s or creature’s body?
- Do I ever hurt myself or think I should not be alive?
- Do I ever enact violence on another one of God’s creations?
- Do I harbor hatred for another?
- Do I entertain thoughts of aggression or revenge?
- Am I cruel or unkind to animals?
- Do I judge another person based on superficial details?
Sixth Commandment and Ninth Commandment: “Do Not Commit Adultery. Do Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife.”
The sixth and ninth commandments are closely related, as one should always remain faithful to their husband or wife and never covet another’s husband or wife. Marriage is a sacred vow, and we must respect this vow and strive to honor our loved ones in every way we can. When examining your conscience for sins against the sixth or ninth commandment, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Have I been faithful to my wife or husband?
- Do I have impure desires?
- Do I entertain impure thoughts?
- Do I partake in any entertainment of an impure nature?
- Am I lustful for another person’s significant other?
- Do I dress modestly and appropriately?
- Do I use vulgarity in conversation or storytelling?
Seventh Commandment and Tenth Commandment: “You Shall Not Steal. Do Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Goods.”
We should never put excess value in money and material items, as these worldly possessions do not enrich our souls. Instead, we should always remember that God is who is truly important in our lives. Strive to share your wealth with those less fortunate by donating to local charities and the Church. You can ask yourself these questions when examining your conscience:
- Have I taken an idea or item that does not belong to me?
- Have I purposefully damaged someone else’s property?
- Do I ever steal something from a store, even if it is small?
- Have I ever accepted an item I know did not belong to me or the person giving me the item?
- Do I harbor greed for material possessions and money?
- Do I worship money or physical materials as a false idol?
- Am I jealous of my neighbor’s house or possessions?
- Have I ever bribed or guilted someone into giving me something?
Eighth Commandment: “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.”
We should not gossip or spread lies about anyone we know, even if that person has hurt us in the past. We must learn to forgive and follow God’s teachings. During your examination of conscience, you can ask yourself:
- Do I ever deliberately lie?
- Have I slandered or spoken ill of another, accusing them of sins or actions they did not commit?
- Do I speak against others without proof or evidence?
- Am I privy to gossip and spread lies about others?
- Can I be trusted to keep what someone has shared in confidence to myself?
- Have I ever betrayed someone’s trust?
- Do I criticize others unfairly?
Catholic Examination of Conscience for the Seven Deadly Sins
As we know, there are Seven Deadly Sins to be aware of and avoid throughout life. Each deadly sin has an inverse known as the opposite virtue, allowing us to renounce this sin and lead a holier life.
Pride is a deadly sin, and humility is its opposite virtue. God exalts the humble and humbles the proud who boast their ego. Pride is one of the devil’s sins, and the devil lies to us, tempting us to hold ourselves up as false gods. In reality, we are imperfect beings, and everything we have is because of our true God and His divine nature. Our life is full of the gifts he has given us. Being humble and modest allows us to accept these gifts and uplift those around us.
When examining your conscience, you may want to ask yourself these questions to determine if you have committed the sin of pride:
- Can I admit my faults and weaknesses?
- Have I shown irritation or anger to others?
- Do I refuse the teachings of others?
- Am I overly critical or judgmental of others?
- Do I harbor disdain, dislike, contempt or hatred for others?
- Do I think I am better than others?
Generosity is the opposite virtue of greed. We should not build a life around material things. Instead, we must be rich in spirit and faith. Materialism can hinder our relationship with God, blocking our ability to understand what is truly important in this life. Generosity ensures we spread our wealth to those less fortunate and do not become obsessed with material items.
You may want to consider these questions about greed while examining your conscience:
- Am I overly concerned with my own well-being and comfort?
- Am I fixated on obtaining material riches?
- Do I get jealous or resentful of other people’s riches?
- Have I shared my wealth with the Church or charities?
- Have I stolen or cheated to gain money or possessions?
Lust is another deadly sin that can be overcome with the opposite virtue of chastity. Throughout life, the media regularly displays sexual images. Our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, and we can all benefit from chastity and renouncing lustful thoughts. Chastity helps us restrain our wandering gaze and focus on what is truly important in life: God.
While examining your conscience, ask yourself these lust-related questions:
- Do I entertain impure thoughts?
- Have I viewed a person as a sexual object?
- Does my gaze wander?
- Have I viewed pornographic material?
The deadly sin of anger and wrath can be overcome with meekness. When confronted with hostility, we must not react in anger. Instead, we can pray to God for guidance and choose a righteous path. We should also curb our anger or irritation over trivial daily matters. We should strive to resist anger and cultivate patience through the virtue of meekness.
These questions may help you understand if you have committed the sin of anger or wrath:
- Do I hold grudges or resentment against others?
- Have I engaged in imaginary arguments or fights?
- Do I lose my temper?
- Is it hard for me to forgive others?
Kindness is the opposite virtue of the deadly sin of envy. We should love all of God’s creations without spite or bias because God blesses us all in unique ways. Envy and jealousy can hurt your relationship with others, but it most damages your relationship with God and His teachings. We must be thankful for the beautiful gifts God has bestowed on us and resist the urge to covet what others have.
When examining your conscience for the sin of envy, consider these questions:
- Have I spoken negatively of others?
- Do I spread gossip or false accusations about others?
- Am I grateful for my own blessings, or am I jealous of others’ blessings?
- Have I failed to defend the reputation of others?
Sloth is another deadly sin causing us to be lazy both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, the virtue of diligence helps us overcome the sin of sloth. Diligence allows us to fulfill our daily duties and our duties to the Church and God.
Ask yourself these questions when examining your conscience for the sin of sloth:
- Have I stopped going to Mass or reading the Scripture?
- Do I pray daily and go to confession often?
- Have I put other priorities ahead of God and His teachings?
- Am I avoiding confession or penance?
The virtue of temperance can overcome the deadly sin of gluttony. Gluttony causes us to indulge in unhealthy displays of self-gratifications, such as drinking alcohol excessively or eating an unhealthy diet. Temperance provides us with self-control and helps us approach these desires without them consuming us.
You may want to ask yourself these questions about gluttony when examining your conscience:
- Do I spend excess money on self-gratification?
- Do I continually consume more food than I need?
- Have I failed to fast or resist urges to indulge?
- Do I abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent?
An Examination of Conscience for the Precepts of the Church
The precepts of the Catholic Church can help orient our spirituality and strengthen our bond with God. While these are viewed as the basic or minimum requirements for a practicing Catholic, the seven precepts of the Catholic Church include:
1. Observe Holy Days of Obligation and Sundays
All practicing Catholics must observe Sundays and Holy Days by attending Mass and avoiding work on these important days.
2. Confess Your Sins at Least Once a Year
The Sacrament of Penance allows us to be forgiven for our sins and once again step into the Glory of God. We must confess our sins regularly and at least once a year to receive the Eucharist, which is the third precept.
3. Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist During Easter
Part of the third precept directly relates to the second precept. We must confess our sins so that we can receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist during Easter, an opportunity to receive the Lord’s body and blood.
4. Observe Days of Abstinence and Fasting
The Church has the authority to suggest certain spiritual disciplines, such as fasting and abstinence, if it feels that these practices may benefit a person’s spiritual well-being.
5. Provide for the Needs of the Church
As Catholics, it is also our responsibility to assist with material needs and provide these to the Church. An excellent way to provide for the Church is to donate and support its mission.
6. Obey the Laws of Holy Matrimony
When we take the Sacrament of Matrimony, we must obey and respect the responsibility of a man and woman in lawful marriage.
7. Support the Church’s Mission of Evangelization
The Church strives to share the wonderful teachings and wisdom of God with others, especially those spiritually poor. As we were taught the Glory of God from another, we should strive to share the Gospel and spread His glory.
What Is the Act of Contrition?
The Act of Contrition is a prayer to express sorrow for the sins we have committed and a way to show that we resolve to avoid future sins as best as we can. There are many different forms and variations of the Act of Contrition, and it is not essential to use one form over another. The most important thing is praying to express regret for your sins and abstaining from future sins.
Traditionally, many people associate the Act of Contrition with the Sacrament of Confession. While the Act of Contrition is an important aspect of confession, it can also be useful in our everyday prayer life. Recognizing our sin and expressing genuine sorrow allows us to grow spiritually and become even closer to God. While we are imperfect and will sin again, we must actively avoid sin and pray for forgiveness when we recognize we have sinned.
We can’t receive the grace of God and become better Catholics without first recognizing our sins and seeking guidance and forgiveness from God.
Send Your Prayer Intentions to Catholic World Mission
A traditional Catholic examination of conscience can help us identify sin and live a life closer to God. Remember, God has taught us to spread the Gospel and share our wealth with those spiritually and financially less fortunate. When you donate to Catholic World Mission, you directly support us and our mission of spreading the word of God and helping those materially poor.
Learn More About Catholic Inspiration & Encouragement
Deacon Rick Medina is the Former Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and for years oversaw the management of all of Catholic World Mission's projects in over 35 countries. He was ordained a deacon of the archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013. He currently serves at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, and is active in several ministries, including RCIA, baptism preparation, Life Teen, Altar Server group, Grief Share, and Adult Faith Formation.