Examination of Conscience: Small Sins


I have to admit, a checklist examination of consciences confound me. They can also be frustrating for me. I look through the lists and it can be frustrating trying to figure which sins actually apply to my daily life. There’s always really big sins like murder and stealing: all things I’m pretty sure I haven’t done. I need some everyday life situations for my relatively sheltered life.

I tried some child’s examinations of conscience, but they are wee bit too simplified. Sometimes, I feel really stupid concerning these things.

I need an examination of conscience that will help me figure out the small popcorn sins.

If you don’t know what I mean by popcorn sins, I’m referencing Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s famous quote about hearing confession from nuns.

Hearing nuns’ confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn.


A good one in terms of sorting the venial from the mortal is this one by Fr Robert Altier:


Thank you, Lilly. The part on venial sins seems more helpful to me, but the first part is rather daunting from all the really serious sins. I wish these lists would provide a better clarification or definition concerning each sin stated (including venial sins). I’m quite sure I don’t know what some of these sins are about… and I’m not sure I want to. shudders I guess the big sins are listed in case they are needed by someone. I’m going to see I need to make a chart for comparison purposes or something.

gets out dictionary

my head is swimming now


You mean some of the wording is a bit confusing? Sometimes big words are used because they’re hard to explain in a lot of little words. Something like ‘presumption’, for example, translates as ‘taking God’s mercy for granted’, but can cover a lot of different things - such as planning to sin and to afterwards go to confession for the sin, expecting forgiveness for sins when you’re not sorry at all, thinking there’s no such thing as mortal sin because God’s a great big ol’ ball of marshmallow, and a lot of other things besides.


please don’t say I’m silly… even if i am

Sort of… but it might help if I explained why. You know how a lot of of these Examinations are based on the Ten Commandments. Now, I can read the ten commandments and it seems pretty straight forward. Also, some of the examinations are based on the Seven deadly sins. They can also seem pretty straight forward to me… or so i tend to think. The problem comes when I start reading these things and they list various sins that fall under the category of one of the commandments. Many are easy for me to get, but there are usually some that tend to stump me.

I tend to want to know what the sin is and why it falls under a specific commandment and why it’s related to this other sin under that commandment… and whether is falls under multiple commandments. The examinations don’t always explain why.

For example, Thou shalt not kill… (taken from the Examination you posted)

Murder, suicide, or manslaughter — This I understand.

Willful engagement in Unjust lawsuits — This one I have trouble with, because it seems to me to fall under lying and not killing. It also seems to fall under stealing. I don’t understand why it’s placed under murder.

This is why I get confused concerning an Examination of Conscience. Plus, not all the examinations are consistent. Some are just downright vague.

I’ve never unjustly sued someone, but if I was presented with that temptation… I’d like to know just how serious the sin is so I can avoid doing it. Not that I’m asking for a explanation now. This is just an example.

Here’s another example from the Examination you linked (no explanation required)…

Honor thy father and Thy mother…

Serious disrespect for or disobedience to parents, superiors, or authorities — I understand this.

Abuse or serious neglect of children – This one I had to think about a lot, because it says children. At first, I was thinking this belongs under breaking other commandments. Then I realized that the words “superior” and “authority” are the key to understanding why it’s here, but I had to connect the previous situation to this one to make a connection. I don’t have children, but I really had to think about it. It can still fall under other commandments.

Some of the categories seem like they are necessarily repeated…

For example…

You shall not steal…
Stealing something consecrated to God or from a Holy place – Stealing is stealing… but this might go under another commandment.

I usually have to cross out all the things I know I didn’t do… especially the one’s that are within my capacity to commit. Then there’s things like this…

“Willful failure to bury the body or ashes of the dead”-- which is listed under “Thou Shalt not kill”.

Okay… I’m not a mortician or funeral director… so this is something I’m not likely to do. The guy is already dead, as well. In my station in life, would that mean not providing money or funeral preparations for a dead loved one? Falls under other commandments?

These things are confusing. I wish examinations would deal with specific sins and then explain all the Commandments they break. How about an examination of conscience for housewives or lawyers? Something that deals with specific stations in life along with the situations of sin that apply to everyone.

“This sin breaks these commandments, because… (insert explanation).”


Certainly a lot of sins could go under multiple commandments, not just one. And to be honest some sins don’t fit neatly into any of the commandments either, but grouping them under the headings of the Ten Commandments is just a way of organising them, for want of a better one.

It’s kind of missing the point to be worrying about how sins are related to other sins and which commandment they breach and why they are listed under that comandment. As long as you know that wilfully engaging in unjust lawsuits is a mortal sin - because Christ teaches so through the Church - it doesn’t matter which of the ten commandments it breaches - if any! Or how it relates to other sins.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the 3 conditions for mortal sin that

-It has to be a grave matter

-you must know that what you have done is a sin

-and you must, knowing that its a sin, choose to commit the act

In other words, if you’ve done something that you’re not sure if its a sin or not, than you couldn’t have sinned mortally.

Is that right?So sins which one isn’t sure if they were sins or not cannot be mortal right?

Of course, one must strive to know which actions are sinful if they are to become perfect and try to not commit any sin. But such a state of perfection takes time, so until we become perfectly knowledgeable about which actions are sins(which we may never), isn’t what I said sufficient in deciding if we’ve sinned mortally?


Those three things are indeed the requirements of mortal sin.

However, sometimes it’s more a case of not wanting to know, if it’s something you want to do you may delude yourself into thinking ‘well, it’s not really a sin, even though some people think it is’’ or even ‘I don’t want to know if it’s a sin’. Wilful ignorance is no excuse.

You can’t be perfectly knowledgeable, however you are bound to abide by what your conscience tells you in regard to sin, and bound to form your conscience, which means acting to resolve cases of doubt or difficulty.

If you’re unclear about something the first time you are tempted to do it, it’s not a sin if you do do it. But thereafter you’re obliged to study, ask your priest and so on, so that next time the situation comes up you are clear on what you ought to do.

Even if the books or priest are wrong (unless they’re obviously so - ie telling you that abortion is OK) you still won’t go wrong by abiding by what they advise.


I know this. Why do you think I’m asking about this? You may be missing the point… but that’s not your fault. You’re just trying to help me spiritually.

It’s just that I’m looking for an Examination that I don’t have to sit and rewrite the phrases in order to understand them better. (It may be that I’m just going to have to make my own from the best phrase of all the ones I find.)

I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m being scrupulous or lax, either. That would be beside the point, too. I just have trouble with language. I have to rewrite sentences, because they can appear vague to me if they don’t use certain words that put it in context.

For example,

“Looking at pornographic imagery”

I have to rewrite the above to say…

“Lusting for pornographic imagery” or “Desiring to look at pornographic imagery”.

A person can accidentally look at something, or it might be their job to look at something they don’t want to (like a police detective). Adding a word that relates to “sin” helps me to place the sentence in the context of “sin” (even though making an examination of conscience should already do that).

This may all seem moot to you, but to people with trouble with language it can be very aggravating. I have a slight disability, but I’m not retarded and I can still understand right from wrong and go to confession.

My examples above were just an example of the trouble I can have, but given enough time… I can place things in context and understand.

The thing is that I want to increase my devotion, and not just end up following a checklist in an examination.

I was hoping to find an examination that was more than just a list and more explanatory. More words help me to place things in context better, and that can be a real time saver.


“Sonic”… this thorough Examination of Conscience has been tremendously helpful, for me. It not only goes over the Ten Commandments… but also the Precepts of the Church; giving detailed examples of how a person might offend against them. It has clarified a lot for me.

Perhaps it will be helpful to you, as well. God bless you.


(p.s. Recently, my priest told me in confession… that Our Lord forgives ALL of your sins, when you make a confession with a truly contrite heart. Even the ones you’ve forgotten. Of course, if you DO remember other sins, later… it’s a good thing I guess… to confess them; I’ve done this a lot, in the 4 years since my return to the faith. I keep remembering things… and then I bring them to confession. The point is, though… that Jesus knows I’m sorry for offending Him; and I believe He has forgiven me… because I went to Confession, with the intention of confessing all of my sins. Did that make sense? lol. :shrug: Hang in there).


Yes, that is true - however we are also responsible for forming our consciences along with the teachings of the Church and since the Church teaches also that we will need to face a particular Judgement at the end of our earthly life, whenever I do anything that I’m not positive is acceptable to the Church (to the very best of my ability to know) I remember that I may have to answer Jesus as to why I did that thing. All of a sudden, it forces us human beings to be objective rather than subjective :(. Yes, we need to keep in mind His Infinite Mercy, however He is not able to extend His Mercy if I choose to disobey/reject Him. If I rationalize to myself that I didn’t know something, when I did really know it or could have easily known it, I am rejecting/disobeying Him.:shrug::eek: After all, Jesus told us to be perfect.:confused:

Did that help?:wink:



Since you mention writing your own examination of conscience from the best phrases you’ve found, it started me thinking that that would have been a good thing for me to have done when I converted (same for a"cradle" Catholic who is just returning to practice their faith).:thumbsup: It will go a long way to helping you in forming your conscience (besides helping you with the wording - I personally know just what you mean). BTW, after you write it, I would take it to a few different priests to verify that it is ok.:wink:

Also, “popcorn” sins are referred to by the Church as “venial” sins.


*Hearing nuns’ confessions is like being stoned to death with popcorn. *

I have never heard of this quote…that is hysterical*.*


I’ll bet the nuns for whom he was a confessor didn’t think it so bloody funny!!! :wink:


Ok I think I understand. That’s kinda scary though… But thanks :wink:


Here are a few I’ve found helpful for uncovering those less obvious sins:

List for those with nothing to confess

Examination of Conscience – Looking at Relationships

Examination of Conscience based on Theological Virtues


No, it doesn’t need to be scary at all. Although it is true that we are to approach our salvation with “fear and trembling”, I don’t think that St. Paul meant that we are to become scrupulous and anxious about everything. After all, he also wrote about us being able to “do all things through Christ”. We do what we sincerely can and then try a little harder (we can always do more than we think) to take away anything which we’ve done that offends Him. We then have total trust and confidence in Our Lord.


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