#44 Examination of Conscience for the Catholic Professional

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I always say nothing beats a good confession!  The big do-over.  The soul carwash. The prodigal returning – again.   However you think of it, the ability to truly restart with a clean slate is one of the gems of our faith – and one of God’s greatest mercies!

And every great confession begins with an examination of conscience, which we are getting to.

For Catholic Professionals willing to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation (either for the first time in a long time, or on a routine basis), confession is actually a secret weapon, an Ace up the sleeve, for successful navigation of both our personal and corporate lives!

How?

We spend most of our weeks at work.  Even if we consider our job to be pretty uneventful, throughout our careers there are countless temptations to take the easy road, to settle for quick comforts when we should really be striving to be our best self.  Being that best self requires a road less traveled.

For Christians, that road is called Grace!

Grace:  A stable and supernatural disposition that enables the soul to live with God, to act by his love.  – From the Catechism

In the simplest terms, grace are gifts from the Holy Spirit to help us live out our Christian vocation.  We Catholics obtain grace through the Church’s sacraments – primarily the Eucharist and Reconciliation (confession!)

To be the men and women God intended us to be, we need grace.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

– St. Catherine of Sienna

As far as Reconciliation goes, here’s what happens…

We get to unburden ourselves and actually hear the words of absolution.  We are reconciled to God fully, which means not just the Lord in Heaven but the whole church as well (remember, we are his hands and feet in the world, the mystical body of Christ).

And, my favorite part is that we receive extra graces to combat our habitual temptations. We all have them, those hot buttons or triggers that can set us off on a regular basis. I don’t know about you but I need all the extra graces I can get. The temptations of the world just don’t quit.  Ever.

To be the men and women God intended us to be, we need grace.

No matter how talented and determined we are, we will not be reaching our full potential, that fiery phoenix we envision (or dare I suggest Sainthood), without grace from the sacraments.

To make the best use of your time in the confessional, you should examine your conscience.  In fact, let’s take a small step back here.  Whether heading to confession or not, a good examination of conscience will help you immediately evaluate what’s working for you in life, and what’s not – and can point the way for your very next, and very best, steps along your path.

Fr. Larry Richards has a great method for teaching people to prepare for reconciliation.  He walks them through the ten commandments and asks some thought provoking questions.  So here is that approach applied to us Catholic professionals:

I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.

Is God really the Lord of your life?  Of your career?  Have you figured out how to serve Him while fulfilling your duties at work?  If you need some help with that, ask Him.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

It’s amazing how often God’s name is misuse – from simple OMG exclamations we hear throughout the day (and constantly on TV/video), to the more profane GDs and JCs dropped, when the smallest things go wrong during the work day.  Are you guilty of engaging in and spreading the practice?  Are you even aware of it happening?  What is your reaction when others spit it out without any regard?

Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.

This may be a big one for you.  It is reported that almost 60% of those claiming to be Catholic do not regularly attend Mass on Sundays (and that number is both conservative and climbing).  How can you partake in the Eucharist and receive all that grace if you don’t show up?

I’ve heard Cardinal Dolan of New York say before that “if you’re Catholic, you are a part of the family.  So act like it.  That means showing up for Sunday dinner!”

And keeping the Sabbath isn’t just about Mass. We may have been made for work but God also demonstrated the importance of periodic rest.  Do you put family and/or friends first on Sunday?  Even if you have to work or perform some labor, do you at least make it a point of planning some family/fun time before or after?

A lot of businesses like to advertise a 24/7 availability.  That may sound good to customers in your industry but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you personally.  Here at Catholics Mean Business, we advocate a 24/6 approach.  Then rest.

Honor your father and your mother.

If you work in a family business, this could be a real challenge.  If not, think of your bosses, mentors, superiors and leaders when examining this commandment.

No one is perfect and when you work under someone, you become acutely aware of their shortcomings and limitations.  Do you practice patience with those limitations?  Have you figured out how to extend grace to them even when you disagree with them?  It’s not always easy, but possible.

A priest once explained to me that even though we teach children the commandments, they were first given to adults.  It’s as adults we need them to guide us way more than we ever did as children.

You shall not kill.

OK, so not a lot of murdering goes on at work (unless you work at Planned Parenthood), but what about Anger?

Anger?  Yes, check out this quote:

Teaching about Anger.* 21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’* 22   * But I say to you, whoever is angry* with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”

Jesus, (Matthew 5:21-22)  Bible: New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 (Kindle Locations 49027-49031). . Kindle Edition.

Our modern culture is a world that seems addicted to anger.  It seems every word you utter today can be the source of someone else’s outrage.  

Just think about your commutes to and from work, your inbox containing correspondence from the boss, co-workers, customers, vendors, distributors and spam, your meetings where there is no consensus, the gossip about what so-and-so said in those meetings, the very presence of certain so-and-sos in your work space, your phone, social media notifications, your desktop, laptop or printer issues…

You get the idea.  There is a potential minefield of anger waiting for us each day.

So why would Jesus set the bar so high?

Maybe he understood that murder was almost always preceded by anger.  Or maybe he knows just how vitally important it is to our souls that we forgive instead of fight.

Or speaking of fighting, maybe he was just trying to communicate the truth that we aren’t really in conflict with one another, but with powers and principalities beyond us.

11 “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  12 For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

St. Paul, Ephesians 6:11-12  New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 (Kindle Locations 57479-57482). . Kindle Edition.

So yeah, in light of a quote like that, all the chaos and strife we see in the world, and at work, seems to look a little different.  You want to stand out?  Practice not getting angry so easily.

You shall not commit adultery.

Adultery is any sex outside of marriage.  Ready for this?  Including porn.  Including masturbation.  There is a grave and mass misconception in society today that somehow porn and masturbation are victimless, and in some circles, even shame free.  

See again my comments above about Jesus raising the stakes.  He was against anger because it was the precursor to murder.  He’s also against lust because it creates adultery.  Listen to him describe it.

Teaching about Adultery. 27   * “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29   * If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”

Jesus, (Matthew 5:27-30) Bible: New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 (Kindle Locations 49038-49041). . Kindle Edition.

Ouch.  To lust is to objectify others.  It is to strip away the inherant dignity from those we objectify.  It is to consume without concern for another’s wellbeing; and it makes us a judge, collecting and rejecting, devouring and discarding at will and with impunity.

And all that makes great sense until the next beer commercial comes on TV, or that attractive person enters the office again.

So one can avoid adultery in all its forms, but in a culture that’s bathed in sensuality, how does one tear an eye out?  How do you not see what’s all around you?

Here’s one suggestion:

Later in that same Gospel where Jesus dropped his views on anger and lust, he addresses the eye.  And I think here we have the answer to our dilemma.

22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.”

Jesus, (Matthew 6:22-23).  New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 (Kindle Locations 49095-49097). . Kindle Edition.

So according to this, the eye should be the most intriguing part of the whole body.  All the skin, hair, make-up, jewelry and wardrobe that we spend so much time evaluating is just the framework for the eyes.  Focus on them to avoid falling into old, bad habits.

I know, it’s easier said than done.  But worth it to practice.

You shall not steal.

Four of the most powerful words in all of scripture.  I first mentioned what I found in the Catechism on this commandment in the original Catholics Mean Business book.  There are fourteen pages in the Catechism dedicated to those four little words!

Stealing isn’t just taking something that doesn’t belong to you.

“You can’t find your neighbor’s wallet before they know it’s missing.  That’s stealing!”

– Lou Holtz

There are three things we can give to God:  Time, Talent and Treasure.  And those are also the things we tend to take from each other.  So how do you steal throughout your day?  The answers for each of us will be as varied as our circumstances.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Lying, Gossiping and accusing.  The triplets of treachery.  They pretty well sum up bearing false witness.  In today’s workplaces lying takes many forms, gossip is just general conversation for some, and accusations are rampant.  

Most of the lying we encounter are in the forms of “little white” ones, like when you want to avoid answering an inconvenient question, or “spin” events as they are retold.  They may be subtle but they still do damage.  Do you agree?  Is a lie a lie in your book, or would you argue otherwise?  If you find yourself in the bad habit of partaking in the practice just remember all lies damage credibility and reputations, and can even cost you financially.

Gossip also damages credibility and reputations, first of the gossipee and second the gossiper.

    28 Perverse speech sows discord, and talebearing separates bosom friends.

Proverbs 16:28.  Bible: New American Bible, Revised Edition 2011 (Kindle Locations 29269-29271). . Kindle Edition.

Maybe you are not the type to go around saying, “have you heard about so-and-so?”  But what about accusations?  Still say no?  Then consider another word: Labels.

How often do you throw around labels?  That guy is a [insert label].  I can’t believe she said that.  What a [insert label].  How often at work do you label people based on your emotions and circumstances?  Ever notice when people support you, they’re “great” and when they disagree with you or do something you wouldn’t do, they are anything but great?

We teach our kids to judge behavior, not the entire person for a powerful reason.  Because people are seldom defined by an action or reaction.  We’re complicated.  We’re imperfect.  Some of us are very broken, but all of us, in our heart of hearts, want to be better.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

This can be a tough one during the course of a career.  Most work places are well integrated between the sexes.  My day job is in the facility maintenance and janitorial supply industry.  Historically it has been very male dominated.  These days though, there is equal representation at all levels.  I can even see it becoming female dominated in another decade or so, as old timers retire.

So if your industry is like mine, you are working closely with the opposite sex on a daily basis.  Ever hear of the term “work spouse”?   Click the link or google it.  I was surprised at the studies showing how many people admit to having one.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate those waters:

  • Always make “Platonic” the first and most obvious adjective to your work relationships with the opposite sex.  Workplace intimacy can often lead to other forms of intimacy.  According to StartupCamp.com, 85% of affairs begin at work!

In other words, don’t fool yourself.  You are not that strong and the devil doesn’t take vacations.  

“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.”  St. Peter, 1 Peter 5:8

  • If you work closely with the opposite sex, and digital communication is frequent (texts, emails), always have a “transparency” policy with your spouse, betrothed, significant other.  This means give them access to your devices and make sure they feel comfortable at all times with your communication “style”.
  • Never, Ever, say anything derogatory about your beloved to your opposite sex friends and coworkers.  That only invites trouble.
  • See again the suggestion above about looking people in the eyes whenever possible.  There could be no better time to start practicing that technique, than with members of the opposite sex that you work with.  Every time you consciously do that, you are honoring your vows (if married) or the person you are committed to, and also respecting the relationships of your co-workers.

And just a note about that word “Practice”.  We practice our faith, and this is just a piece of it.  So yes, practice these little things to make big, and maybe even eternal, differences in your relationships.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

Someone have the position you want?  Someone have the office or the attention you desire?  Do they drive a better car, pull into a better spot or driveway than yours?  While you are stoking those coals of jealousy, stop and consider who around you may be viewing you in the same way.  

It is easy to fall into the trap of only taking credit for our good fortunes, and casting blame for everything else. You are where you are because of your decisions, your words and your actions.  And God will help you see how your current status can be used for your gain, along the way to your ultimate destination – if you ask him.

There will be plenty more on this one in a future post that is under construction.

So let the soul searching and personal inventory commence.

If preparing to go to confession, try this guide for examining your conscience and see if it doesn’t help you make a more complete reconciliation.  Even if you weren’t planning on it when you started reading this, you may realize you need to go sooner rather than later – and that’s OK!

Even if confession isn’t on your agenda this week, this exercise will enable you to see yourself in a new light, and help you immediately improve your your relationships and performance at work.  Those around you, and your future self, will be grateful.

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