How does one examination their conscience to know if they’ve sinned? For many people, this involves using a questionnaire, checking off boxes for things we’ve done. Great.
Except, not always.
One problem that people face with these questionnaires is that they are beholden to the limited nature of the instrument itself. Often, they are based on the Ten Commandments (and only the Ten Commandments) meaning that there is no examination of how we’ve treated the poor, no care for creation, no sense of humility or meekness, and no reflection on the words of Jesus. Clearly, we need to use more than the Ten Commandments as a guide (which is why I offer the above video with further suggestions.)
But beyond what I spoke about in the video, there is a danger in using these questionnaires in that the questions themselves are not waited. So often I have people come to confession with a list of 19 sins. “I lied. I swore. I disrespected my parents. I had lustful thoughts. I wasn’t content with God and so desired physical things. I doubted. I was prideful. I didn’t pay attention in Mass. I had anger towards my sister…” While all of these things could be sinful, and none of them are good things, they really don’t tell me, the confessor, anything. Simply listing off a long succession of items does not offer context, intention, severity, or effect. “I lied” might mean that the person told another that their baby pictures were cute when they actually thought the baby was weird looking, or it might mean that they told false information under oath in an attempt to hurt their enemy. The same check mark on the questionnaire, but clearly a very, very different sin.
Using examination of conscience tools can be very helpful to uncover blindspots in our lives, helping us to see where we need to change, but they must always be approached critically. It is not about the quantity of checks that we make. It does not make someone more of a sinner if they have 15 checks compared to another with just one when that one is murder. Further reflection is needed.
If you use an examination of conscience tool (and I do recommend that you use multiple), don’t get hung up on the number. Don’t worry about checking boxes. Use the tool as a means to ask yourself, “What is truly getting in the way of following Jesus?” Focus on the things that matter, and change your life.