St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century hermit-priest and founder of the Jesuits, developed a manner of prayer and reflection that has been referred to historically as "The Jesuit Examination of Conscience," "The Prayers of Examen," or just "The Examen" (See Note 1). While The Examen includes the themes of confession and repentance, it includes also the remembering of good things and happy times as well as reflections on the deep yearnings of the human soul. It is a compassionate, all-encompassing way to look back on the day, the week, the year, or even an entire life season. While I recommend praying The Examen weekly, I suggest praying it more frequently during Lent and Advent, or while you're away on retreat. At times, it can be helpful, too, to pray with a pen and journal in-hand so as to capture the essence of your examen.
This prayer practice can be prayed all at once or over a period of hours, days, weeks, or even months. In my practice, I pray a personally-adapted version of The Examen (see below) on Wednesday afternoons (in concert with my weekly Wednesday fast). As I suggest above, I pray it more frequently during Lent and Advent and while I'm away on retreat. For the last few years, I've been setting aside the entire month of November as "A Month of Thanksgiving," during which I focus almost exclusively on Element 1 (see below). While there is an order to the practice, its methods are intended to be flexible, comprehensive, and uniquely personal.
Please use what I've provided below as a guide, and modify it as you see fit. Make it meaningful to you. Make it yours.
Praying The Examen
Begin by praying The Our Father, and then proceed to Element 1.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
Element 1: My Expressions of Gratefulness
Suggested Scripture Reference: Psa 107:1.
Suggested Manner of Prayer: Lord...all I am is Yours, and all I have is Yours. Even the guilt I feel over my human failings comes from You. Thank You for all You've given me.
Suggested Reflection: For what things are you most grateful in this moment? [Name or write down at least three (including your ability to sense when you've sinned), and then spend the next few minutes thinking (or even writing) about one of them.]
Element 2: A Selfless Examination of Myself
Suggested Scripture References: Psa 19:7-14; Psa 51:1-15; and Psa 139:1-4 and 23-24.
Suggested Manner of Prayer: Holy Father...Speak into my heart, and help me see more clearly all that's been happening in my life: the good, the not so good, and those areas that fall somewhere in between.
Suggested Reflection: In what ways have you experienced or been touched by God's Loving-kindness recently? [Name or write down at least three.] In contrast, how have some of your most recent activities been little more than misguided attempts to pursue consolations apart from that Love? [Think or write about at least one instance where this has been the case.]
Element 3: A Compassionate Review of My Intentions
Suggested Scripture References: Est 4; Psa 16; Mk 10:46-52; Ro 7:14-25; and Eph 2:8-10.
Suggested Manner of Prayer: Holy Father...Enable me to be more honest with myself and You about why I do the things I do. Help me to get back up when I fall and, each time, to surrender a little more to the security, power, and inspiration of Your express Will for me.
Suggested Reflection: Why do you exist? What makes you happy? And what do you really want?
Element 4: A Grand Rethinking of My Life
Suggested Scripture References: Lu 10:25-37; Ro 2:1-16; and Php 2:12-15.
Suggested Manner of Prayer: Holy Father...Grant me a greater love for You, and enable me to let You Love me the way You want. Help me, Lord, to see, think, and feel about things the way You do. Help me, too, to let You root out anything from me that doesn't belong, that's not me, that's not of You.
Suggested Reflection: What does it mean to be forgiven? And how can being forgiven (and the peace it brings) affect your life from this point onward? What doesn't belong in your life? What will you lay down? How? When? And how will you rest more fully in the bright future God has for you?
Element 5: My Expressions of Hope (Consecrating Myself to God)
Suggested Scripture References: Psa 23; Pr 3:1-6; Jer 29:11-13; Mt 26:39; Mt 28:16-20; Lk 23:46; Jn 3:30; Jn 17:3; 1Cor 13:4-8a; Gal 5:22-23; Php 2:5-11; and Jas 4:10.
Suggested Manner of Prayer: Holy Father...I surrender to You. And, in this moment, I empty myself and make myself nothing before You. Please fill me with all You have for me today so I might empty myself into those around me by becoming their slave. Annointest my head with oil, O God, that my cup might indeed runneth over. You must increase; I must decrease. Not my will but Thine; into Your hands I commit my spirit.
Suggested Reflection: What would your life be like if you opened yourself up and just gave yourself away to God? And what, too, would happen if you let God do the same for you?
1. The prayer format and themes discussed in this post are adapted from The Spiritual Exercises, a book written by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century.
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