Do you say your night prayers regularly? And, if so, of what do they consist? I raise the question not because I am good at saying night prayers but because I believe we should all pause from time to time and consider what we do about this. One issue came to my mind: the examination of conscience. This is most naturally related to going to Confession – although there it may add up to little more than reading a list of possibilities listed in a prayer book – and picking the most obvious. But, given that Confession is less frequent nowadays, it has increased in its importance.
Since I am a wizard at self-justification I need to start with a prayer to the Holy Spirit. I find this not only clears my mind, but it makes it hard to fool myself. And I don’t try to cover the waterfront. Were I to look at my detailed rights and wrong throughout the day, it would not only take half the night but, in thinking about everything, I am likely to do nothing about anything. Of course on any day there may be an incident requiring immediate attention, but usually it’s still the old, old struggle with my perennial faults. Forgive me if I don’t list them – I find them hard enough to accept before God, let alone before you lot. Public confession may be good, but the internet is taking it a little too far.
In fact I don’t even check on all my faults because I think it better to work on one or two at a time. That allows me to think in a very practical way so that I can see whether the barometer of grace with respect to that fault or tendency is going up or down – and what I can in practice do about it. It will be checked the following night.
An important point (important because it appears often to be neglected) is to notice my positive progress. That may sound like self indulgent praise, but just as our sinfulness tends towards our increasing sinfulness so our improvements lead to greater improvements. My celebration of even a little progress is accompanied by my awareness of the rôle of grace.
Tonight (I am drafting this last Sunday) I will be considering the sermon I heard this morning. It took less than three minutes, but it hit home. In briefing the 72 disciples whom Jesus sent out to carry his word, his instruction was “Whatever house you go into, let your first words be ‘Peace to this house.’” So tonight I will be thinking what peace have I offered today. What peace have I offered to my wife?, what peace have I offered to casual friends who call or telephone?, what peace have I offered to a parishioner who parks his car across my drive when going to Mass?, what peace have I offered to readers of this blog if I make a contribution? It’s all rather pedestrian, I fear, but then love is for the most part pedestrian. And actions are more powerful than the holiest of intentions.
I see the Christian life not as a judgment of whether we are in a state of grace or not, but as a staircase. The top rung is infinitely high for there I would be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. No, I am much further down on my own step. The issue for me is not a supernatural leap to the top, but whether or not I am taking my next step downwards or upwards. Night prayers and prudent examination of conscience seem to me the strategy most like to succeed. What do you think?