Every year around this time, we are bombarded with lists. The top movies of the year. The best and worst dressed. The top news stories of 2011. Something about the ending of one year and the beginning of another prompts us to review and assess the year just past, and evaluate the high and low points.
This tendency to evaluate and make lists is deeply ingrained in us. In the Catholic spiritual tradition, we have a method of self-evaluation that might be a valuable spiritual exercise at this time of year. It’s called an “examination of conscience.” Although there are lots of different forms of this exercise, all of them are comprised of a structured list of questions to ask yourself, designed to help you determine where you might have gone wrong, what your spiritual weaknesses are, and even what you should have done that maybe you neglected to do.
If you’ve never done a formal examination of conscience, this might seem like a big downer, and not the way you’d want to end your year—with a list of your failings. But this is a list that’s just between you and God. There’s no need to sugarcoat it. If, after going through the exercise, you’ve discovered some serious issues needing reconciliation and forgiveness, then you’re well prepared for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. At a minimum, you’ll be able to base your New Year’s resolutions on something concrete, and at best, you’ll be able to start the New Year with a clean slate, metaphorically speaking.
If you’d like to locate an examination of conscience to reflect on, I recommend going to Google or your favorite internet search engine, and searching for the phrase “examination of conscience.” You’ll find several different versions you can try.