Examination of Conscience difficulties


I’ve been trying to make an examination of conscience every night, but I have a problem in that I can never seem to figure out how I’ve sinned. I know I’m not perfect and that I must have in some way. How can I rectify this? Thanks!


Sin is broken down into two categories:

  • the action or omission which is contrary to the Divine law but is not known to be such by the person is called a material sin.
  • formal sin is committed when the agent freely transgresses the law as shown him by the conscience whether such law really exists or is only thought to exist by the person.

So for formal sin we examine our conscience for at least the sins which are grave (serious) – serious because they destroy charity in the heart, and these must be confessed.

The things to be examined are against the two commandments:

Matthew 22:37-40

37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

So we see these broken down in the ten commandments and the precepts of the Church.


The list Father Larry Richards shares on his site.


I don’t know about you, but I do not personally find it helpful to go down a long list every night looking for possible sins. I’m usually too tired for that and it would also create a lot of anxiety in me to be going down a sin list at bedtime when I’m trying to put my trust in God and go to sleep.

When I sin during the day, I usually know it right away. I told my friend a white lie - I slacked off instead of finishing some work - I lost my temper at a driver who cut me off . A little bell in my head rings “SIN”.

I would suggest that if you have trouble with the big examination of conscience, you think about the interactions you had during the day and whether any of them could have been handled better or more charitably, or did anything during the day just set off a little bell in your head, no matter how faint.
It’s similar to doing the Daily Examen in Ignatian spirituality, which is explained further here.

Also, if you are living a basically good and moral life, don’t be surprised if on some days you don’t come up with anything. I think these long examinations of conscience make people think they need to check a certain number of “sin” boxes. At this point in my life, it’s mostly the same couple of boxes over and over, and probably 70 percent of the stuff never comes up. Some days I don’t have a box to check. It doesn’t mean I’m perfect, it could just mean I was feeling ill so I slept almost all day and thus didn’t have a chance to sin.


The Daily Examen was posted in my diocesan newspaper some time last year using the acronym GRACE.
G= Gratitude. Give thanks to God. It is a time when I log 3 good things that have happened during the day. The only thing needed is a steno. This helps increase optimism by focusing on the positive rather than the negative. If you have children, they can develop the habit by saying or drawing 3 good things as part of their nightly ritual. They say them, you write them, or give them their own little diary to draw in. The idea is to develop a positive attitude toward life, and take our mind off the negative.
R= Review of the day. Both positives and negatives. A little of that was done for the gratitude log. So, yes their is some overlap. I like to think about the Genesis Story and how God reflected at the end of each day of Creation. He saw what He had made and saw that it was good. Of course, we as human see also our flaws, our sins, and misgivings,
A=Action. What is my plan of action for the next day. This is the time to take out the calendar and plan the calendar. To make the To-Do list, etc. What is your resolution for the day? Ben Franklin had a virtue that he worked on each week. The examination of conscience in my Roman missal talks about selecting a resolution of the day. What change do I want to make? Is there somebody I need to forgive? It can be worked into your action plan for the day, scheduled into your calendar. Mine basically says, Morning prayer followed by breakfast. Yes, I’m going to try to get the dishes cleaned, and make my bed. I schedule my time time to swim at the YMCA.
–The plan of Action will be reviewed in the morning.
C=Contrition/Commitment. This is the time to pray the Act of Contrition or Psalm 51.
" Give me a clean heart O, Lord, and cleanse me from all my iniquities." which I like to pray during my evening shower/bath.
E=Exultation. The examen ends with praising God.
Before entering into Compline, the last of the Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours.

This positive approach sets up the morning routine.
1)Invocation-- If you do not care for my soul, it is useless that another should do so. [Ps. 121:1]
2} Foresight. Preview Day. Check Calendar. Preview day.
3)Plan of Action–esp. how to handle difficulty. For me that would include checking the weather. I take the bus, commute times have to be taken into consideration. Check traffic reports, etc. Clothes have already been laid out from previous night’s planning (Daily examen). Bed is made, etc. This is also incorporated into morning prayer.
4)Resolution: To obey God’s will.
5) Recommendation: I commend to , O gracious Lord, my soul, my life, my memory, my understanding, and my will. Grant that in and with all things, I may serve you, love you, please you, and honor you forever. [Ps3:6, Luke 23;42)

Integration of evening examen with morning routine on a very practical basis.


I’m always a bit wary of lists, just because many things can be difficult to understand or must be considered situationally. It may not be best for certain individuals to read lists for the danger of seeing sins that may not apply to them.

For an obvious example from that list, I’m pretty sure I disobey my parents regularly, and I’m hardly running to confession for that now. :wink:

Yes, I’ve joked that if I want to have my most sin-free days, get a migraine. The meds will knock me out pretty well and then I just stay in bed because I shouldn’t be operating anything more complicated than a microwave.


It sounds like you are living a holy life. Focus on opportunities to do good. The Gospel Sunday tells about a man healed by Jesus of a hearing and speech impediment. Maybe we need to speak out more. Or maybe we are blind to other peoples needs.


You don’t.

If you need to rack your brains, you probably don’t have anything to worry about from that day.

If you’ve sinned big time, you’ll know it. So if you can’t figure it out any one night, give thanks to God for your perseverance in his grace that day.

God does not ask us to dredge up our memories for sins. That is one factor behind the scrupulosity you see so rampant on CAF these days.


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