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Examination of conscience for pastors

Introduction

This examination of conscience is designed for all pastors as they eagerly strive to meet the challenges of our time. It assumes that the pastor who is exploring its contents has already achieved self mastery of the emotions and therefore it omits the many questions that are typically included in a general examination of conscience written for all members of the Church. It focuses on the fundamental mission of the Church which is to proclaim the Good News, to combat sin and save souls for everlasting life. These weighty core values should form the epicenter of every pastor's mission directed toward a culture that in large part does not "repent of their murders, their magic potions, their unchastity, or their robberies." Rev. 9:20. The examination of conscience may seem very challenging. Indeed, that is what an examination of conscience is supposed to do! A zealous pastor will quickly see that this examination has the potential to greatly assist in propelling the entire Church forward toward its glorious destination.

Preaching

"When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Mt 7:28

  1. Do I preach with authority?
    1. Do I claim the authority given to me by Christ and his Church?
    2. Is my tone emboldened by truth, faith, righteous authority to rebuke sinners, as well as meekness and humility, with each tone appropriate for the time, place and audience?
  2. Do I present the Gospel as a choice with serious consequences for acceptance or rejection? Or do I dilute the message, presenting the Gospel as a proposal, that is, something which can be implicitly rejected without consequences.
  3. Do I avoid difficult parts of the Gospel under the guise of being more loving and gentle?
  4. Do I proclaim the problem of sin and the call to repentance?
  5. Do I mention specific sins that are rampant in our culture in our time?
  6. Do I proclaim the Particular and General Judgments of Jesus?
  7. Do I proclaim the Particular and General Judgments of Jesus while at the same time acknowledging that they apply to me?
  8. Do I imitate as closely as possible the powerful teaching ministry of Jesus Christ?
  9. Do I humble myself in the presence of righteous believers?

"But we will more fully understand this power of discernment if we study the example of the first shepherd. For Peter, who by God's authorization held the position of leadership in the holy Church, refused immoderate veneration from Cornelius (though the latter had acted well by humbly prostrating himself before Peter), but Peter recognized him as an equal saying: "Arise, do not do this, for I am also a man." But when he discovered the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, he immediately showed the extent of power he had over others. For by his word, he ended their lives when he overtook them with his penetrating spirit. He had a self-awareness that he was the head of the Church in the battle against sin, but he did not acknowledge this honor when he was in the presence of upright brethren. In one case, holy conduct merited the communion of equality; in the other, avenging zeal revealed the just use of authority."[1]

Teaching while preaching

"About this we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain, for you have become sluggish in hearing. Although you should be teachers by this time, you need to have someone teach you again the basic elements of the utterances of God. You need milk, (and) not solid food.
Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil." Hb 5:11-14

  1. Do I study and teach the meaning of Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Papal Encyclicals and Church documents?
  2. Do I expound on the finer points of these invaluable sources?
  3. Do I teach the Ten Commandments and explain how they must be fulfilled in Spirit and Truth?
  4. Do I teach the seven capital sins - pride, greed, jealousy, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth? [3]
  5. Do I teach virtues and vices and how vices may be disguised as virtues? [2]
  6. Do I make any of the following excuses [5] when it comes to the more difficult moral teachings?
    • Talking about serious moral issues would scandalize the children.
    • It’s okay to talk about these matters in RCIA, marriage preparation classes and to provide pamphlets on these issues in the vestibule, but not at the pulpit.
    • These issues are contentious. They will produce strife and discord.
    • Collections will go down.
    • People will go to another church because they don’t want to hear this.
    • When the bishop talks about it, I’ll begin to talk about it.
    • I’m not prepared to speak about these issues because I wasn’t trained in the seminary for this.
    • The recent clergy sex scandals make it impossible for me to talk about sex today. I have no credibility.
  7. Am I mindful that if I do not warn a sinner and rebuke his sin, the Lord will hold me responsible for the sinner's death? Ez 3:18-20
  8. Do I teach the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit - wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord?
  9. Do I teach and foster the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit - expression of wisdom, expression of knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment and tongues?
  10. Do I teach the five precepts of the Church?[4]
  11. Do I teach on issues of social justice and urge the laity to participate in the building of a just society by establishing a hierarchy of values with prominence given to the right to life?
  12. Do I strive to protect the souls entrusted to my care by warning them about heresies?

Prayer

  1. Am I faithful and regular in daily prayer, including the Divine Office?
  2. Do I pray the Rosary as earnestly requested by Our Lady of Fatima?
  3. Do I implore those encharged to my pastoral care to fervent daily prayer, including the Rosary?
  4. Do I invite those encharged to my pastoral care to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  5. Do I offer up all sufferings, annoyances and inconveniences to Christ for atonement of sins?
  6. Do I foster prayer meetings?

Obedience

"Priests must be pure, very pure. They should not busy themselves with anything except what concerns the Church and souls. The disobedience of priests to their superiors and to the Holy Father is very displeasing to Our Lord." Words of Our Lady of Fatima spoken to little Jacinta.

  1. Do I place obedience to God as my number one priority?
  2. Do I implement the requests of my religious superiors?
  3. Do I obey my religious superiors in their requests that I live very modestly so as to imitate Christ and not bring scandal?
  4. Am I faithful to my religious or priestly vows?

References

  1. The Book of Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great. Translated by George E. Demacopoulos; St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Crestwood, New York, 2007, section 6, p. 64.
  2. ibid, section 9, page 76.
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Part Three, Section One, Chapter One, Article 8, Section V, Paragraph 1866, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano, 1997.
  4. ibid Part 3, Section One, Chapter Three, Article 3, Section II, Paragraph 2041-2043.
  5. Getting Beyond "I Can't" By Fr. Daniel McCaffrey, STD  and Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB, PhD.

The questions above cannot possibly explore every aspect of the pastoral spiritual life. For example, missing are questions involving the diligent performance of the Sacraments. While important, these are well governed by ritual rules of discipline and generally do not present difficult challenges. The questions above are tuned and focused on the difficult challenges of our time, a time when authoritative preaching has faded while the world labels evil good and good evil. This examination was composed by Brian Murphy and first posted September 15, 2016.

Endorsed by:

Very Rev. Charles Wright, OSB, Oceanside, CA

Rev. Matthew Habiger, OSB, Atchison, KS

Most Reverend Timothy Freyer, Orange, CA

Rev. Frederick Parke, Jacksonville, FL

Rev. John Putnam, Huntersville, NC

Rev. John Paul Hopping, Maplewood, MO

Rev. Shenan J. Boquet, President, Human Life International, Front Royal, VA

Fr. Tom Cusack, St. Columbans, NE

Most Reverend James D. Conley, Lincoln, NE

Fr. Leszek Wiecaszek SAC, STL, Dundee, Scotland

Fr. Paul Raj, Hilton, Western Australia