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An honest examination of conscience yields personal, societal fruits

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Two months ago, I offered an examination of conscience based on the first three of the Ten Commandments.

This week, I want to fulfill my promise to complete the examination of conscience based on the remaining seven Commandments. The first three Commandments focus on our relationship with God and our striving to love God with all of our mind, heart and soul.

The remaining seven concentrate on our relationship with our fellow human beings. These seven guide us in fulfilling what Our Lord calls the second great commandment: loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus actually significantly elevated the standard for his disciples, when he challenged them to love one another as Our Lord had loved them.

The Fourth Commandment to honor your father and mother” (Ex 20:12) reminds us of the primacy of our familial relationships and responsibilities. 

Parents have certain duties to their children, providing physical, emotional and spiritual care for them throughout childhood and adolescence. Christian parents are called to be the first teachers of their children in the faith as well as examples of virtue.

There are no perfect parents. Sadly, many adults have father or mother wounds. Many of our societal problems today result from the breakdown of the family. An alarming number of children are growing up without the presence in their home of one of their biological parents (most often the father).

At the same time, young children and adolescents owe their parents obedience. We read in the Gospel that Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary in Nazareth.

Adult children have a special responsibility for elderly parents. We must not only be vigilant regarding their physical needs, but more importantly, in honoring them by always treating them with great respect. An American cultural weakness is a lack of respect for the elderly.

Pope Francis speaks frequently about the importance of honoring and respecting parents and grandparents. Often, adult children may not be able to provide personally the level of physical care aging parents may require.

However, one cannot delegate to others the love, respect and emotional support  children owe their parents. The family is irreplaceable in accompanying aged parents during their final years on earth. 

The Fifth Commandment — You shall not kill (Ex 20:13) — “forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2268). “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception” (CCC, 2270).

“Since the first century, the church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable” (CCC, 2271). “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable” (CCC, 2277). 

In considering the implications of this, the catechism also reminds us of our responsibility to care for our own health. It counsels us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or drugs. (CCC, 2290-91).

Sins against the dignity of the human person such as racism, antisemitism, sexism, etc., are also offenses against the Fifth Commandment. We can do grave harm to individuals by injuring them not only physically, but also by verbal assaults against the dignity of our fellow human beings.

The Sixth Commandment specifically prohibits adultery, infidelity to the exclusive and permanent covenant between a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the foundation to the present and future health of society.

Husbands and wives are not just bound to physical fidelity. Other than their relationship to God, spouses must guard against any other friendship or emotional attachments assuming greater importance than the well-being of their marriage. 

The Sixth Commandment, however, is more broadly understood to include every other type of sexual disorder — e.g., fornication, pornography, masturbation, homosexual activity, contraception, etc.

Positively, this commandment requires the Christian to cultivate the virtue of chastity. The catechism defines chastity as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual well-  being” (CCC, 2337).

The so-called sexual revolution has been a societal disaster that has resulted in the deaths of millions of unborn children as well as the emotional scarring of millions because of marital infidelity, divorce, sex-trafficking, pornography, cohabitation, etc.

The examination of our life in this area challenges us to ponder how we are positively striving to cultivate chastity in our life and, at the same time, attempting to combat the societal forces promoting a false and dangerous notion of human sexuality.

The Seventh Commandment prohibits stealing the property of another. This commandment implies a right to private property. The confiscation of another’s property by an individual or by the state is a violation of this commandment. Authentic repentance for stealing requires a sincere effort of restitution to the victim of theft.

The catechism reminds us that this commandment, more completely understood, challenges the Christian to work for a just society. While the right of private property is necessary for a well-ordered society, those who are materially blessed also have an obligation to be good stewards of their possessions. They have a responsibility not only to provide direct assistance to the poor but also to create economic opportunities for others.

This commandment also requires employers to pay a just wage and workers to provide an honest day’s work. Similarly, it requires that we strive to be good stewards of creation.

The Eighth Commandment prohibits bearing false witness against another. The commandment obviously opposes saying things that are untrue about another person and thus damaging their reputation. It also prohibits rash judgment, gossip or detraction which involves unnecessarily revealing another person’s faults, thus harming their reputation.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments prohibit jealousy and envy, coveting the spouse or the material possessions of another. These are sins against gratitude. They occur because we are blinded to the blessings of our own lives by our desire for what another person appears to have.

The natural disposition of the Christian is gratitude. Our thanksgiving naturally arises from the realization of our own blessings. Daily pondering the blessings of our own lives is the greatest antidote from the poison of envy.

Praying over the Ten Commandments is a great tool for a daily examination of conscience and a helpful preparation for the worthy reception of the sacrament of reconciliation.

Christianity is not about self-perfection through our own efforts and will power. The Christian is transformed by recognizing our sin and surrendering our weaknesses to our merciful Redeemer.

By exposing ourselves constantly to the merciful and unconditional love of Jesus, we become increasingly transformed into the divine image.

Doing an in-depth examination of conscience at least monthly and then receiving the sacrament of reconciliation is an important pathway to grow in holiness and happiness. The more we recognize our sin, the more opportunities for God’s grace to liberate us from our enslavements.

We only appreciate the depth of Our Lord’s love for us when we can honestly acknowledge our sin. Allowing God’s mercy to penetrate our hearts helps to equip us to bring mercy and compassion to others.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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