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  • Dr. Karen Shields Wright

Preparing Our Souls to Meet Christ: A Self-Directed Retreat

In preparing our souls during Advent and Lent - to meet Christ in the manger or the Risen Christ - we are called to these seasons of special prayer and reflection.

In Advent we prepare our souls for hope and peace for the world; in Lent with its time for fasting and almsgiving, in addition to self-discipline in renewing our baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized for the joy and gifts to come.

Here in this self-directed retreat is a way to pray the Examen as a Particular Examination of Conscience, reflecting upon our growth in the gifts of the Virtues within our daily life, using of discerning the 'spirits' within our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The Virtue of Gratitude and the Discernments of 'spirits'

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he reminds us that the first sin Pride comes from not being grateful, for all things we have, are gifts from the Giver. It comes from not living in the reality that we were created with aptitudes and limitations and need His grace. Here focus on growing in the virtuous habit of discerning the 'good spirits" that are operating in us all the time, to see out living the Virtues that can only be done through the gifts of grace.

Virtues - Vices

Gratitude - Pride

Patience - Wrath

Temperance - Gluttony

Caritas - Greed

Diligence - Sloth

Humility - Envy


"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." "A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions." Catholic Catechism 1803


"Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, and other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia." Catholic Catechism # 1866

We are to remember the reality that all the good we choose can only be achieved by our cooperation with the gift of 'actual' grace. Therefore reflect upon what Virtues we desire to grow in and in our desire to cooperate with God's grace.

The Grace of Gratitude and Growth

Gratitude also helps us in growing in all the Cardinal Virtues and human virtues.

You may be called to consider other virtues and capital sins pairs pre and during this Lenten season using this Examen as a Particular Examination of Conscience. Just replace the Virtue and its opposite the Vice in the Examen's reflection questions here below .

Praying the Examen as a Particular Examination of Conscience

1. Thanksgiving

Today what am I most grateful for?___________________

2. Illumination

Lord, open my heart and mind to see myself as you see me.

Today, what did I desire?_______________

3. Examination

Today, in what ways have I acted out of Gratitude and shown your love?________________

How has your grace operated within me, growing in the virtue of Gratitude today?__________________________

How have I discerned your voice? ____________________________________

4. Contrition

Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.

Today what choices have I made that has been an inadequate response to your love? ______________________________________________

How has Pride been operating in my life today? (for all other sins flow from pride) _________________________________________

5. Hope

Lord, let me look with faith, hope, and charity toward tomorrow.

What do I desire and need for tomorrow to let you lead me to grow in this virtue of _________________?

Notes from Puhl's Translation on the Particular Examination of Conscience (SE #24-#30)*

There are three different times of the day and two examinations involved in this practice. (SE#24) First, in the morning, immediately on rising, one should resolve to guard carefully against the particular sin or defect with regard to which he seeks to correct or improve himself.

(SE#25) Secondly, after dinner, he should ask God our Lord for the grace he desires, that is, to recall how often he has fallen into the particular sin or defect, and to avoid it for the future.

Then follows the first examination. He should demand an account of himself with regard to the particular point which he has resolved to watch in order to correct himself and improve. Let him go over the single hours or periods from the time he arose to the hour and moment of the present examination, and in the first line of the figure given below, make a mark for each time that he has fallen into the particular sin or defect. Then he is to renew his resolution, and strive to amend during the time till the second examination is to be made.

(SE#26)Thirdly, after supper, he should make a second examination, going over as before each single hour, commencing with the first examination, and going up to the present one. In the second line of the figure given below, let him make a mark for each time he has fallen into the particular fault or sin.

(SE#27) Four Additional Directions

These are to serve as a help to more ready removal of the particular sin or fault

  1. Every time one falls into the particular sin or fault, let him place his hand upon his breast, and be sorry for having fallen. He can do this even in the presence of many others without their perceiving what he is doing.

  2. (SE#28) Since the first line of the figure to which G is prefixed represents the first examination of conscience, and the second one, the second examination, he should observe at night whether there is an improvement from the first line to the second, that is, from the first examination to the second.

  3. (SE#29) The second day should be compared with the first, that is, the two examinations of the present day with the two of the preceding day. Let him observe if there is an improvement from one day to another.

  4. (SE#30) Let him compare one week with another and observe whether he has improved during the present week as compared with the preceding

*(SE#) All quotes are taken from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph by Louis, J. Puhl. SJ

Our Lady of the Way, Pray for us!

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