Now that the New Year 2024 has just begun it would be fruitful to seek some insights as to how we can live it with great benefit for us and those around us. As I was pondering on this fact it just happened to me to open the autobiography of Pope St John XXIII called Journal of a Soul for some guidance. Here is what I would like to share with you as I read the entry Feast of the Holy Family, 24 January, 1904.
To begin with, Pope Roncalli starts with a very telling phrase: I have been looking back over my progress this month to see how my spiritual life is faring. I strongly think that this phrase should accompany us not just during this whole year of 2024 but also throughout our entire life. It calls for a daily examination of conscience. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to us with such a persuasive tone regarding the examination of conscience. In number 1779 it tells us: It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience. This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection. Then, to solidify its position, it quotes St Augustine who writes: Return to your conscience, question it. . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness (In ep Jo. 8,9:PL 35,2041).
Already the Cathecism speaks of examination of conscience which takes place before sacramental confession. It says: The reception of this sacrament ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount and the apostolic teachings (no.1454). Such an examination of conscience would surely help the recipient to approach this great sacrament of healing with a full disposed heart. That is why Pope St John Paul II spoke in the following way about it: To those who have been far away from the sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiving love, I make this appeal: Come back to this source of grace; do not be afraid! Christ himself is waiting for you. He will heal you, and you will be at peace with God!
Pope Francis himself spoke on the importance of the daily examination of conscience during his General Audience of October 5, 2022 when he said:
An aid in this is examination of conscience, but I am not talking about the examination of conscience that we all do when we go to confession, no. This is: “But I sinned in this, that…”. No. A general examination of conscience of the day: what happened in my heart in this day? “Lots of things happened…”. Which? Why? What traces did they leave in my heart? Carrying out an examination of conscience, that is, the good habit of calmly rereading what happens in our day, learning to learning to note in our evaluations and choices what we give most importance to, what we are looking for and why, and what we eventually find. Above all, learning to recognize what satiates the heart. What satiates my heart? For only the Lord can give us confirmation of what we are worth. He tells us this every day from the cross: he died for us, to show us how precious we are in his eyes. There is no obstacle or failure that can prevent his tender embrace. The examination of conscience helps a great deal, because in this way we see that our heart is not a road where everything passes without us knowing about it. No. To see: what passed by today? What happened? What made me react? What made me sad? What made me joyful? What was bad, and did I harm others? Seeing the route our feelings took, the attractions in my heart during the day. Don’t forget! The other day we talked about prayer; today we are talking about self-awareness.
Another insight which offers us Pope St John XXIII as to how to live the New Year 2024 in God’s holy light is certainly that which pertains to the right use of the tongue. On this point he writes: In conversation, great reserve in what I say and how I say it. I must beware of speaking ill of anyone, even indirectly. I must always preserve a natural, not an affected, dignity. Above all, I must be extremely careful when I am talking about our Superiors. It would also be very wise to avoid effusions about my own affairs: I must not pour out my feelings about everything, to everyone.
The use of speech is of utmost importance. Again, Pope Francis offers some beneficial insights as to our great responsibility in using our tongues correctly. In his latter part of his homily which he delivered during his pastoral visit at the Roman Parish of SS. Sacramento A Tor De’ Schiavi, on Sunday 6 May 2022, he said:
Is chatter love? The one who chats about others… No, it’s not love. Badmouthing people is not love. “Oh… I love God. I do five novenas a month. I do this, this…” Yes, but… how is your language? How’s your language? This is precisely the touchstone for seeing love. Do I love others? Ask yourself: How is my tongue doing? It will tell you if it’s true love. God loved us first. He always awaits us with love. Do I love first or do I wait for them to give me something to love? Like little dogs who wait for the gift, the piece to eat and then celebrate their owner. Love is free, first of all. But the thermometer to know the temperature of my love is the tongue. Don’t forget this. When you are about to examine your conscience, before confession or at home, ask yourself: have I done what Jesus told me: “Remain in my love”? And how can I know? From how my tongue went. If I spoke badly of others, I did not love them. If this parish managed to never speak badly of others, it would be canonized! And, at least, as I have said before: make an effort not to speak badly of others. “But, father, give us a remedy so as not to speak ill of others.” It’s easy. It is within everyone’s reach. When you feel like speaking badly of others, bite your tongue! It will swell, but you will certainly never speak badly again. We ask the Lord to “remain in love” and to understand that love is service, it is taking care of others. And thank you for understanding that the thermometer of how love goes is the tongue.
Will we take this advice from Pope St John XXIII and Pope Francis and try to live them during this year? If we do, we can have a greater chance to live peacefully with God, others and, most of all, ourselves.