In order to make a good confession, we must first make a good examination of conscience.
Many of us are familiar with examinations of conscience based on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), but there is also another biblical guide that we can use to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation: the Beatitudes.
While the Ten Commandments is a list of “thou shalt nots” given by God to Moses on a mountain, Jesus gave another list to his disciples (also on a mountain), a list of “blessed are those.” The Old Law commanded negatively through a holy fear of God, while the New Law commands positively through holy charity: the perfect love of God and our neighbor. The New Law calls us to aim much higher, to imitate the perfection of Jesus Christ. We are not called to simply stop sinning; we are called to be holy.
The Beatitudes, then, are our guide to holy living given to us by Jesus himself. They are the opening lines of his most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which St. Augustine called “a perfect standard of the Christian life”:
“If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself. For the sermon itself is brought to a close in such a way, that it is clear there are in it all the precepts which go to mould the life. For thus He speaks: Therefore, whosoever hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock […] these sayings which He uttered on the mount so perfectly guide the life of those who may be willing to live according to them, that they may justly be compared to one building upon a rock.”
—St. Augustine of Hippo
Therefore, the Beatitudes are an excellent resource to prepare for confession, to examine ourselves to see if we are living an authentic Christian life.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do I strive – with my time, passion, and resources – to accumulate more temporal goods and honors, instead of seeking to obtain true spiritual goods? Do I recognize my spiritual poverty and humbly acknowledge my need to continually seek and be filled with the Spirit of Christ?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Do I sorrow over the sins committed by myself and others, considering how much they offend God and how they bring more evil and disorder into the world? Do I do sufficient penance for my own sins, and reparation to God for the sins of others?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Am I obstinate and quarrelsome, always trying to assert my will over others in regard to petty and unimportant things? Do I strive to overcome evils with good, by responding to offenses with gentleness and a good will, instead of retaliating in anger and spite?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Am I trying to become more holy by conquering my habitual sins and diligently practicing acts of virtue? Do I love Jesus and strive to do His will above all things, instead of my own?
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Are my eyes and my heart open to the mental, physical, or emotional sufferings of others? Do I try to relieve their pain and misery through spiritual and corporal works of mercy?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Do I try to keep my heart, mind, and soul untainted by the evil influences of this fallen world? Do I guard the purity of my senses by being cautious and discriminatory about what I allow myself to see, watch, and hear?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Do I strive to keep my soul in the peace of Christ? Do I look for ways to bring greater order and harmony among persons in my family or place of work, or do I participate in perpetuating discord and strife?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do I count it a joy when I suffer wrongs for the sake of doing good? Do I offer up my trials to God for the salvation of souls?
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Am I living my Catholic faith authentically so that others can see that I am a devout follower of Jesus Christ? Do I avoid living and proclaiming the truths taught by His Church for fear of being disliked, ridiculed, or persecuted?
The word beatitude means happiness. We can also read this list as “happy are those who… .” Only when we are living in the light of the teachings of Jesus Christ will we find true happiness in this life and the next.