During this Lenten Season, I have been reflecting on the way my life is and the way it ought to be. So, perhaps I should not be surprised that my mind made an unusual connection between a child’s game and an examination of conscience. The child’s game is ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ a game where two pictures are placed side-by-side, the one on the left being the exemplar and the one on the right being a copy with subtle differences. The object of the game is to find the differences.
In one sense, an examination of conscience is much like this child’s game. We compare how our day actually happened to how it should have been. There are a number of different ways of making this comparison, but essentially we are reflecting back on what we actually did, said, or thought during the day and comparing it to how it should have been. We determine how it should have been by some standard of conduct, namely, the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes, for example.
The picture I saw that triggered the connection was a happy scene of two children jumping rope outdoors under a tree, with flowers, birds, and a rabbit in the background. The copy had a weed instead of the flowers, the bird was missing, as was a branch of the tree, and the rabbit had become a cat. The effect of the differences conveyed a less cheery scene in the copy as compared to the original. Oftentimes, there is a similar effect in real life when our actions fall below the standard established by God for our good relations with Him, ourselves, and our neighbor.
Other times, the difference is not so drastic. There might be only one difference: one weed instead of a flower. In this case, we could conduct a particular examination of conscience. A particular examination is conducted with a focus on one particular sin, fault, or imperfection so as to eliminate that weed from our life and replace it with a beautiful flower: a virtue instead of a vice. We anticipate situations that may arise during the day where we are prone to fall, and we plan ahead; if we fail, we take note and resolve to act differently next time. If we succeed, then we give thanks to God for helping us along the way of perfection.