One enduring lesson taught us by Jesuit mentors in school comes under the heading, the examination of conscience. A lesson judged so vital, we had to practice and refine it daily, summarize it weekly, and recall it annually. As daily practice, it came as serious ritual before going to sleep. Apart from night prayers, one set aside time to introspectively look into how one lived that day, examining what one did and thought and making judgment on whether one’s inner voice had been bothered by things that transpired. And this examination always came with the firm resolve to acknowledge personal responsibility and commit to personal changes in one’s behavior and thought.
As a prelude to the proper reception of the Sacrament of Confession or Penance which was scheduled weekly, one is again asked to review the entire week’s behavior. Then a formal telling to a confessor priest, ending with a promise not to have the same recur, coupled with a firmer resolve for amendment in one’s life
Then annually under a formal gathering called a retreat, which was either open or closed, one again took careful stock of the longer period, assessing one’s progress or retrogression. Open, when done as a group. And closed, when one removed oneself from daily routine, sequestered and isolated oneself, and conducted one-on-one sessions with a spiritual director.
Did this strict regimen make for happier or sadder lives? Personally, I couldn’t say either.
But it did make for a humbler look at life, a more tolerant take on grinding realities, maybe a self-satisfying contentment at how one is living life, or maybe even, a more nonchalant, or better still, a more accepting or disinterested resignation to things outside the scope of one’s effective influence. The last one especially is quite important because without it, life can be most frustrating and hopeless, when one looks at the myriad of things wrong with the world around us and one somehow has no influence or power whatsoever in changing them. Things like widespread corruption in government, consummate evils like terrorism and wars, in your face greedy or self-righteous people, etc. Thus, instead of sowing discontent and disdain by exposing and dwelling on extraneous evils, one finds enough personal demons to do personal combat with, enough to last a lifetime.
But what appears above as a quite mundane exercise has actually a larger and better context, in the realm of spirituality.
This concept of taking personal responsibility under a rigid and persistent self-examination with the resultant and consequent resolve for personal amendment is the fertile soil under which personal spirituality can grow, as propounded by the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola.
And as popularly practiced you find these self-same principles undergirding many successful programs of self-help, including but not limited to those engaged in ridding people of various addictions. Accepting personal responsibility and moving on.
And as one looks around the world of today, it is easy for one to sense that there is great need for this practice.
Hopefully, to reduce the projective hatred of people toward others expressed as acts of terrorism and uncalled for violence, or to curb the heavy and incessant demands by both the governed and the politicians on government to resolve problems of peoples’ poverty, absence of health insurance, lawlessness, etc.
Let’s start with those.