Glen Argan has spent more than 35 years writing and editing in Canada’s Catholic press and has two graduate degrees in theology. Here he answers some of our questions about his newly released Create in Me a Clean Heart: An Examination of Conscience for Today’s Catholic.
What has been your goal in writing Create in Me a Clean Heart?
I found the standard examinations of conscience based on the Ten Commandments did not help me to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation. They didn’t dig deeply enough into my soul nor did they enter into my thoughts, actions and omissions in the various milieu of my life.
But I found that the speeches and written documents of Pope Francis did do these sorts of things. One of his annual speeches to the Vatican Curia, for example, was presented in the media as the pope chastising the Curia. But I found it addressed various sins that are committed in the workplace. Likewise, his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia stirred controversy over whether Pope Francis was allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist. But the document also contains a long section which I have used fruitfully to examine my own actions and inactions with my family.
So, I wanted to use elements from Pope Francis’ various statements to provide an examination of conscience which would be useful to today’s Catholics.
How does this booklet differ from other examination of conscience guides out there?
For one thing, it is longer than most. You cannot go through this booklet in one sitting. It takes time. I hope it also provokes us to make the examination of conscience a regular part of our lives. Create in Me a Clean Heart further calls us to account on how we are living up to the Church’s call to contribute to a more just society, one that is respectful of the earth and of our obligation to simplify our lives and overcome the addictions that have created the current climate crisis.
I see parishes doing some good things with the examinations at Advent and Lenten penitential services. But those examinations are brief and do not allow much time for reflection before everyone lines up for individual confession.
What has been your biggest challenge preparing this booklet?
It is difficult to write such a booklet without feeling that you are placing heavy burdens on those who read it. When one begins to examine not only one’s wrongful actions, but also one’s complicity in social sins, one might feel a huge weight of guilt. One needs to remember that they cannot do everything, and that God is merciful. God sets a high standard, but God is eager to forgive us when we seek that forgiveness.
What has been the biggest reward?
The biggest reward will be if some people take this booklet seriously and plumb the depths of their consciences with greater seriousness and regularity. Of course, I rarely hear when such a thing happens. I have been a journalist for 40 years. While many people do respond graciously to what I have written, most of the time one’s writing seems to go into a void. One never knows what affect one’s writing has on readers – for good or for ill.
What essential point do you wish the reader to take away from this booklet?
My hope is that people come to see the examination of conscience, not as a burden, but as a step in growing closer to Jesus. Ignatius of Loyola made the examen – which brings us to recall both the graces and failings of our daily lives – a cornerstone of the spiritual life. Create in Me a Clean Heart is not in the same league as Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, but if it can help readers to see the value of digging deeply into the web of one’s motives and actions, it will have performed an important function.
Create in Me a Clean Heart can be purchased here.