St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus, was practical about prayer and recommended a daily examination of one’s life in order to better serve the Lord. He taught that the key to spiritual growth is to find God in all things and to be free to cooperate with the will of God. St. Ignatius proposed the twice daily exercise called the Examen praying that we might discover how God is working in our life. We learn to discern God’s will and grow in our understanding of creation. The Examen of Consciousness can benefit anyone.
The Examen is not an examination of conscience before confession. It is a prayer that helps us discover the presence of God in daily life. The Examen helps us become more spiritually aware. St. Ignatius told his Jesuits that the Examen is the one prayer they absolutely must engage in every day. The Examen is for all people who are seeking to do the Lord’s will.
The five steps to the Examen take about 15 minutes. Many make their Examen around noon and a peaceful place. Sit comfortably and invite God’s presence as you enter into intimate prayer.
1. Thanksgiving: Begin by thinking of God looking on you with love. We are always in the presence of God. In prayer we enter into conversation with God. Lord I realize that all, even my life is a gift from you. What am I most grateful for? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look at your life with love. Thank God for the day, a good night’s sleep, the smell of coffee, the laugh of a child. We grow in gratitude by recalling that everything is God’s gift: the morning, singing of birds, someone’s smile or kindness. God is in what we experience. After reviewing the gifts of the day, recall the gift of your own creation. The special way God made you brings grace to others through your strengths, humor, encouragement, and patience.
2. Petition: Open my eyes Lord and give me strength. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look at your life clearly by sending you grace, wisdom, and deeper understanding. The Spirit will help you understand the mystery of your heart as you consider your actions and motivations. This is not to “beat up on yourself”; rather, a gentle look with the Lord at how you have responded to God’s gifts and the activities of the day.
3. Review your day. Lord, show me what has been happening in me. Today, in what ways have I experienced your love? This is the longest step as you notice the details of what happened and how you reacted. Look for things that cause you to act with less than love and what moves you to be more Christ-like. Perhaps you were cross with someone. God might show you that they remind you of a past injury. This is the key to effective discernment. If every time you drop an egg you swear, God will prompt you to consider why are you swearing?
The key to the Examen is to be aware of God’s presence in what you did, what you though and how you responded. Our actions help us discover God’s grace and how you can be more loving. Habits are good to notice. Perhaps you are in the habit of watching TV every morning. Look at what happens. Is the news or Facebook upsetting you? If daily habits are dragging you down, in the Examen you begin to notice specific things that cause you to be negative or joyful.
See both the positive and negative. The Examen is an opportunity to see whereod has helped you make positive responses. Maybe you need to accept more help from God. Perhaps you chose not to engage in gossip or you felt some hesitation about doing something. These are signs of grace. The Examen helps us become more sensitive to the movements of the Spirit.
You will notice the ways the Spirit influences you through people, the Church, and Sacred Scripture. God helps you know he is present and loves you. These intuitions of the things God wishes can come in the Mass, meditation, and reading Scripture and spiritual books. You will recognize that you are the hands, heart, eyes, ears, and the presence of Christ to those you meet.
4. Contrition: Imagine Jesus beside you as talk about what you did and experienced this day. If you did something wrong tell Jesus you are sorry and ask him to help you the next time you are in that situation. Remember good things and thank the Lord for helping you resist temptation. Be grateful for God’s gentle work in your soul that is making you more Christ-like each day.
5. Hope: Look forward with longing to tomorrow—how will I let you lead me to a brighter day? A hallmark of Ignatian spirituality is repetition. In the first and second steps, we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we look at our day with gratitude. In the third and fourth steps we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we review our day. This final step is a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus that will build hope.
End the entire Examen by praying the Our Father with hope and gratitude.