Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

17 June 2012

Faith, Hope, Charity…and You

In an earlier post I offered sample questions from, and personal commentary on, an Examination of Conscience based on the Beatitudes (quod vide).  In this post I offer sample questions from, and personal commentary on, an Examination of Conscience based on the Theological Virtues (quod vide), written by the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J.

  • Do I make an honest effort to grow in the virtue of faith by daily mental prayer on the mysteries of the faith as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ?
This question pertains to the fides quae (literally "the faith which"), the objective content of Catholic teaching.  There is truth to be known, and there is a way to know it.  For those who still read books, I recommend
    • The Holy Bible (The New American Bible is the version used in liturgy; the Jerusalem Bible is another favored Catholic translation--hey, J.R.R. Tolkien had a hand in it; the New Revised Standard Version published by Ignatius Press is well liked for its "formal equivalence" style of translation.  If smaller, Mass-sized bites seem more suitable, consult each day's readings in a missalette, such as may be found in the pews of your church.  There are many worthy devotionals that offer a verse or two to chew on.)
    • The Catechism of the Catholic Church (brainchild of the Second Vatican Council, though not promulgated until 1992.  Meaty.)
    • The Documents of Vatican II (translated by Austin Flannery, O.P.  Hardly like the so-called "spirit" of this council, responsible for much of the current mess.)
    • The Code of Canon Law (1983.  More detail about many things than I will ever care to know, but check out the initial canons on each sacrament for a succinct and beautiful definition)
    • The Roman Missal, Third Edition (formerly known as the "Sacramentary."  Contains all the prayers--fixed and variable--offered within the Holy Mass all year round.  The revised  phraseology reveals a certain richness in the liturgical texts.)
By "mental prayer" Fr. Hardon means a "form of prayer in which the sentiments expressed are one's own and not those of another person. Mental prayer is accomplished by internal acts of the mind and affections and is either simple meditation or contemplation" (Wikipedia article).  Think carefully about the truths of faith and talk lovingly to God about them in your own words.
  • Do I ever tempt God by relying on my own strength to cope with the trials in my life?
This question pertains to the fides qua (literally "the faith by which"), an individual's life-sustaining relationship with God.  It is said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, "Your will be done," and those to whom God says, "Have it your way."  It seems that we all have to go through the contest of faith, the back-and-forth of partial surrenders, the lessons learned and relearned.  God is patient, to a fault!  He lets us have our way, He lets us go on spinning our spiritual wheels, trying really hard without mindfully consecrating our activity and sufferings to Him.  Grace is there for the asking.

Read Gaudium et Spes no. 37 for a masterful treatment of the human situation.
  • Have I allowed human respect to keep me from giving expression to my faith?
This question refers to both the fides quae and the fides qua insofar as we can be ashamed of the truth of Catholic teachings, or we can hesitate to share about our personal relationship with the Lord.  If we have little knowledge of the former or little experience of the latter, we must remember that nobody else will accomplish these things for us, and nobody else will answer for us when an accounting of our stewardship is demanded.

  • Do I allow myself to worry about my past life and thus weaken my hope in God's mercy?
Unlike human beings, The Enemy has made only one overarching choice for Self.  There is no opportunity for repentance because of the intensity of the angelic will.  He knows, that, unlike angels, human beings are able to repent--to change their minds and to learn from their mistakes.  He therefore capitalizes upon our sins by reminding us of them, annoyingly and at inopportune times (e.g. during prayer, or in the act of making new mistakes--"See, you idiot!  You still can't get it right!").

Many people have made a habit of entertaining worries about our past sins, even those of which we have been sacramentally absolved.  We thereby strain our spiritual muscle, making it harder to resist all sorts of temptations.  Discouragement increases like the proverbial snowball tumbling down a hill.  Soon enough we wonder "what's the use" with a life of virtue.  Tires can deflate when they hit a nail, or  because of an untreated slow leak.

I am no stranger to such things.  A trusted friend has suggested a prayer that should be repeated as necessary: "This is not open for discussion."
  • Do I fail in the virtue of hope by my attachment to the things of this world?
"Woe to you who cling to passing things, for you will pass with them" (St. Augustine, Tractate on the Gospel of John, 10.6).  You will pass…slowly, uncomfortably, with all the futility of a kidney stone.  Paying undue attention to material goods, to relationships, to fame, or to praise, distracts us from the true end and aim of our lives--the mansion prepared for us in heaven.

I think of the Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin devours a sickening amount of cereal so that he can collect enough box tops to send for a propelling cap.  As he waits each day for the postman he fantasizes about flying around the neighborhood, around the world.  Finally the cap comes in.  Reluctantly he must attempt "some assembly required," and in the process he accidentally snaps the propeller.  That's the human condition--misplaced hopes, misdirected material and spiritual resources.

One cannot help but wonder whether repeated attachments and disillusionments might harden a person to the acquisition of the divine perspective.  Again, Augustine: "God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination."  Fortunately God is patient, to a fault!
  • Do I try to combine every fully deliberate action with at least a momentary prayer for divine help?
This is a habit worth trying on.  Best to keep it simple: "Lord, help me."  "Jesus, take the wheel."  Anything that reminds us right now that God is in control and that He trusts you and me enough to do what we have to do each day, mindful of the untold millions of other people who are somehow affected by our words and actions.  No pressure!

  • Do I take the occasion to tell God that I love Him whenever I experience something I naturally dislike?
The first of the two great commandments concerns love of God (cf. Dt 6:4).  As with any relationship, we run the risk of being "fair-weather friends," attentive and grateful when all seems well.  All too often, our automatic response to hardship is complaint.  What if, through discipline, we might come to say, "Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to grow in patience!"  It will seem (be?) fake at first, but just keep at it.  We're not necessarily out to change what we dislike into a favorite, as a leopard its spots.  It would seem worthwhile to capitalize upon the unavoidable unpleasantries (people, places, and things) of this life.  Souls are waiting to be healed through Purgatory.  Your soul is waiting for unprecedented growth.
  • Have I dwelt on what I considered someone's unkindness toward me today?
We can't blame anyone else for the way our day is going.  We get to choose our attitude toward the people and situations of the day, how we approach "all things visible and invisible."  People may very well treat us unkindly.  If we're not yet at the point where we're blessing them in return, remember that this is a lifelong endeavor.  It requires willingness, patience, and labor to look for reasons to have compassion on anyone who may have offended us.

Negative thoughts will arise.  But there is a difference between what arises within our consciousness and what we dwell upon, entertain, seat at our table and pour a glass of Merlot for.  Let those thoughts pass through; dwell rather upon the image of Christ that you share with your fellow human beings.

  • Have I written any letters today?
This may seem like a strange question for an examination of conscience, especially in times so troubling for the postal service.  Of course a text message, email, telephone call would do.  The point:

For Christ's sake, think about somebody else!

Thinking about somebody else is a form of prayer.  Let thoughts freely give birth to words and actions. As often as you do, I'm sure you experience the legitimate satisfactions that accompany generosity of time and effort.  The more often we try to think about somebody else, the less often we will chafe at something we may find naturally unpleasant; and the unkindnesses that come our way will not have their way with us.

1 comment:

  1. "If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"!mawaddainternationalaid