If you’ve read my previous posts, you may have guessed that one of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola, the great founder of the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits). Ignatius was born in Spain in 1491. He was a soldier in the Spanish army before he experienced a profound conversion to Christ at the age of 30.
During a battle against the French at Pamplona, Ignatius’s leg was broken by a cannonball, an injury that left him with a limp for the rest of his life. As he recuperated in his bed at home, he began to read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. As he read, he noticed something happening in his heart: he felt drawn to Christ and he desired to imitate the saints about whom he was reading. This time of recuperation was a defining moment in his life, and from that point on he devoted his life to Christ and to spreading the fire of God’s love to all people he encountered.
One of the great methods of prayer that Ignatius proposed for spiritual growth was the daily examen. In fact, still today, priests in the Society of Jesus are asked to set aside fifteen minutes twice a day in order to pray the examen.
Many of us are probably familiar with what is traditionally called the examination of conscience. This examination consists of a prayerful review of the good and the bad that I have done during the day. The problem with this prayer is that so often it is too self-focused and too moralistic (only focusing on my actions). For Ignatius, the daily examen was meant to be so much more than just focusing on the good and the bad that I have done; the examen is all about God’s action and loving presence in our daily lives. Ignatius believed that by being attentive to God’s presence in our daily lives we could more easily discern the direction in which he is leading us.
I know I’ve already touched on the examen in my previous posts, but I thought it would be important to go into a little more detail for the sake of those who aren’t familiar with the examen. So how does one pray the daily examen? Ignatius proposed the following way* (see footnote):
• Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen.
• Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
• Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
•Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I also look for those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
• Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
• Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
•Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.
The spiritual fruit that we reap from praying the daily examen is a deeper attentiveness to God’s action and loving presence in our lives. We also grow in the spirit of gratitude because we take time to give thanks for the many blessings the Lord gives us everyday. We develop a sensitivity of heart to God’s graces and we desire to respond more completely to his will. The daily examen is a wonderful way to discern God’s will in our lives. Praying the daily examen can help us to answer important life questions: Where is God leading me? What particular virtue is calling me to grow in? To what vocation is he calling me?
Of this Ignatius was certain: if we set time aside everyday to examine God’s action in our lives, we will come to see more clearly what he is asking of us and where he is leading us. Not a bad trade off for 15 minutes a day.
*I have borrowed these steps verbatim from The Examen Prayer by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, (Crossroad: New York, 2006), p.25.