Each day is a microcosm of our entire life. In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Each day is analogous to one’s life, and each night is analogous to one’s death. If we consecrate each morning and day to God, should we not also consecrate each night and sleep to God? In that way, our whole day, whether awake or asleep, is consecrated to God. Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. What is more important at the end of one’s life, at the doorstep of death, than to review one’s life, and to ask forgiveness for all one has done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come, it may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, and so, we must be like the faithful servant, and always vigilant and ready. As Jesus warns in the Gospel of Matthew in the parable of the ten bridesmaids: “..the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:10-12)
Even though this is a horrible judgment, Jesus gives us reason to hope. He tells us that we can be ready for the end and welcomed into the “marriage feast” of the Lord. But, how? We must remain vigilant and prepared for the return of the Master, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. And, how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, living closely to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds, in short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to us having a well-formed moral conscience. Once we have a well-formed moral conscience we will better understand that we regularly fall short of the commandments of God, and are in constant need of His forgiveness. Moreover, the more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct conscience,” and seek to perfect our lives. This is the idea of the nightly examination of conscience. As the Catechism quotes Gaudium et Spes, “ For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC 1776) In the traditional canonical hours of the Church the nightly examination of conscience would be “Compline,” or night prayers for the last hour of the day. Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, and everything that we did or said, or failed to do, good or bad.
So, how should we proceed? First, we should ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and enlighten our consciences, to give us discernment about the events of the day. Then, we should offer thanksgiving, by thanking God for all the good gifts and blessings that day. Where did we receive His grace and encounter Christ throughout the day? Where did we pray, sacrifice, be merciful or love throughout the day? Where did we fail to do so? Then, we should also confess directly to God, in the silence of our heart, all our sins and failures for that day, and ask forgiveness.(**see below) We can ask God to forgive us and to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do better tomorrow, in renewal of our commitment to Christ. We can consecrate ourselves to God in our sleep, that even our rest may glorify God. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asked forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition. This is a typical version of the Act of Contrition:
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who is all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
It is also traditional to end your nightly prayer by saying the Our Father. We can also offer our breath and our heartbeats, in union with the breath and heartbeats of Christ, for the sanctification of the world. The examination of conscience and Compline prayers at night are the final seal of prayer and consecration of the day, finishing what we began in the morning, with our Morning Offering prayer, in that way the whole day is consecrated to God, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life (for that day), sealed in God as one. In this way, we can go to rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, at peace with our day and with our God, in hope of the resurrection to a new and eternal life.
**There are a number of standards by which we should judge our selves and our actions for the day. These are the same questions we should measure ourselves, in the examination of our consciences, when approaching the sacrament of Confession. They are all rooted in following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The questions include (but, obviously not an exhaustive list): Have I humbled myself before God today and prayed? Did I fail to make acts of faith or charity today? Have I made an idol out of anything in my life? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I missed going to Church? Have I stolen anything? Have I lied? Have I hurt someone? Have I bore false witness against someone, or gossiped about someone? Have I cursed today? Have I committed sins of the flesh and lust? Have I been envious of others’ property? Have I lashed out in anger? Have I been lazy and wasted time? Have I engaged in gluttony? Have I been greedy? Have I harbored jealous or evil thoughts? Have I been stubborn or unforgiving today? Did I give into temptation today? Have I seen, said or watched anything sinful, or blasphemous? Did I respect and honor my family and my parents today? Did I fail to be merciful to someone? Was I joyful and nice to other people today? Was I arrogant and proud? Have I willingly not followed Jesus in any aspect today?