Advent is a time of preparation- preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for the Christ-child who will one day offer each of us salvation through His sacrifice upon the cross. It is a time to quiet ourselves and reflect on God’s love and blessings.
Advent is not only a season of preparation; it is also a season of repentance, penance, and renewal. We are called to have a conversion of heart and it is only through complete acknowledgement of our sins, dedication to overcoming the temptations through sincere and fervent penance, as well as with the gift of God’s grace, that we can hope to be renewed once again in Christ.
For Catholics this seems easy enough… we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This makes it easy on us, right? Simply go into the confessional, confess your sins, and voilà, good as new! Right?
Repentance requires more of us than that. True repentance is taking a long, hard look at ourselves and finding all the places we fail. It is admitting that we have not put God at the center of our lives and that we have disrespected Christ through our thoughts, actions, and/or inactions. It is saying we haven’t loved others the way He calls us to love. This is hard to do. No one likes to look that closely at themselves. It’s scary and unsettling. How could we have become “that person”?
Does it truly matter if we repent or not? Doesn’t Christ forgive us anyway?
It matters because sin keeps us separated from God. When we separate ourselves from God we are separated from His graces and love. When we fail to be truly contrite, we tell Christ that His sacrifice is not important to us; that we are comfortable with the wall we are building between us and Him; that our wants and desires are more important than a relationship with Him.
We are each called to look deeply at ourselves to see where we may be building walls between us and God, where we may be failing to be Christ’s hands and feet to others, and how we may have turned our back on our Lord. Advent gives us ample opportunity to do just that.
Where do we start?
There are many examinations of conscience out there that you can choose to read to figure out where your shortcomings are. You can even download apps on your phone to help you figure out what your sins are and to keep track of how many times you have committed a particular sin! I’ll be honest and tell you that many of the examinations that I have seen don’t particularly help me much. It’s not that I don’t sin, I do! But because of the way the examinations are written, I just don’t seem to get much help from them in truly digging deep into my heart and soul to find where my biggest faults lie.
To aid me in discovering where my sins are hiding, I had to come up with my own examination of conscience. Perhaps it’s a bit unorthodox, but I think it is effective nonetheless.
Many years ago I heard a song by Michael W. Smith called I Have Never Been Unloved. The lyrics spoke to my heart. I saw myself, and most importantly, my sins, in that song. I knew immediately it was the examination I needed the most.
I have been unfaithful- have I doubted God and all His love and blessings? Have I been apathetic in my faith because of my doubts?
I have been unworthy– have I been thankful for the gifts I receive? Have I shown God’s love to others?
I have been unrighteous– have I had wicked or ill thoughts about/towards others?
I have been unmerciful– have I withheld mercy to others? Have I been cruel to others?
I have been unreachable– have I tuned out God or turned my back to those who have reached out to me?
I have been unteachable– have I refused to acknowledge the truth? Have I insisted on my own way, denying that others may be able to show me a better path?
I have been unwilling– have I refused to allow God’s will in my life?
I have been undesirable– have I been rude, mean, or ugly to others? Have I pushed others away from me?
I have been unwise– have I disregarded good advice because of stubbornness? Have I made poor choices when I know that better choices exist?
I’ve been undone by what I’m unsure of– have I allowed doubt to pull me from my faith?
I have been unbroken– have I put my own will above God’s?
I have been unmended– have I refused to allow God to heal my heart? Have I held onto a grudge and refused to accept an apology from someone who has hurt me? Have I refused to ask others for forgiveness?
I have been uneasy– have I refused to place my trust in God and instead allowed worry to consume me?
I have been unapproachable– have I closed myself off to others whether it is because I worry about being hurt or some other reason? Have I acted like I am better than others or that others are beneath me? Have I been friendly to those I don’t know, to those who have hurt me, and to all those I encounter?
I have been unemotional– have I allowed myself to experience the joy of love and the pain of sorrow? Have I closed myself off to others so that I won’t get hurt?
I have been unexceptional– have I tried to be Christ’s light in the world? Have I tried to help others and to make this world a better place to live? Have I been lazy?
I have been undecided– have I faltered in my faith? Am I proud to be a Christian and to be a follower of Christ or do I hide my faith and beliefs?
I have been unqualified– have I refused to do God’s work because I don’t feel qualified? Have I refused to seek out the skills I need to do a particular task?
I have been unaware– have I closed my eyes to the suffering around me? Do I see Christ reflected in the faces of those who are most needy? Have I turned my back on Christ when I turn my back on those who ask for my help?
I have been unfair– have I discriminated against anyone? Have I oppressed anyone? Have I treated anyone in a cruel manner? Have I tried to get further in life by stepping on someone else?
I have been unfit for blessings from above– have I lived my life in a manner that tells God that I do not want His blessings and I am not deserving of His blessings?
When we look deeply in our hearts we can see our shortcomings and our deficiencies. We are called to acknowledge those sins, to ask for forgiveness, and then to change our lives so that we do not continue to separate ourselves from God.
God desires an intimate relationship with us. And as I conclude my examination of conscience, and particularly after I receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I am reminded that despite all of my sins and my failings, Christ has always loved me. While I may separate myself from Him, He never leaves my side.
“Because of you and all you went through, I know I’ve never been unloved.”