Last fall, I would often find on the GroupMe App for the Newman Rocksquad, “I am praying night prayer at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.; would anyone like to join me?” I would always try to say yes to this and join the students for night prayer. These invitations led us to begin offering a communal half-hour of Adoration followed by Night Prayer at the Newman Center each evening. With the suspension of public Masses in mid-March, we, like many other communities, began streaming this public prayer along with Mass via Facebook Live.
Night Prayer includes an examination of conscience. I have chosen to lead the community in an Examen during this time. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he describes the daily prayer of the Examen in five simple successive steps: gratitude, petition, review, forgiveness and renewal.
In these Covid-19, days I have been trying to focus more on the first step of the Examen, the prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving. I realize that, “as we praise God, our spirits become awakened and alive to his love. Our minds become aligned with His purposes, and we began to be aware of all that is possible and available to us from his throne of grace … Our natural tendency is to praise God only when things are going well. But Scriptures tells us, rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (Dr. Mary Healy, Magnificat 3/26/20)
LuAnn Lindskov, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Isabel, sent me this email after encountering our nightly prayer on Facebook. “For several years, I have heard the Lord call me to pray the Ignatian practice of the Examen at the end of my day. I really struggled with completing night prayer with consistency. One of the many blessings during this time is the many opportunities for participation in an online community. Praying night prayer, including an examination of conscience, with Fr. Mark and the young people at the Newman Center is inspiring and helping me build this discipline. The church is alive and well and I am thankful for the beautiful witness of young people. During this time of separation, we are not alone, Jesus is walking with us. Our Lord answers our prayers by whatever means He desires and for me, 7:30 p.m. Night Prayer on Facebook with the Rapid City Catholic Newman Center is what my heart and soul are longing for.”
Along with LuAnn, several of our seminarians have also shared with me the encouragement they are experiencing because of their practice of the Examen. Max Vetch, a junior at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, shares, “I think one of the biggest graces of this time is realizing how helpless we really are. Everyone seems to be using the words ‘uncertain times’, but as Christians we have been living in the end times since Jesus first came. This is not to say that we should be frightened at the possibilities of danger. We have the greatest certainty of all in the victory of the resurrection. This is what we especially celebrate during the Easter season.”
Robert Kinyon, second year of theology, notes “This difficult time has provided me an occasion to recognize more deeply that everything I have is a gift from God — even my very existence. By virtue of His sheer gratitude, I have life. Sometimes my life is riddled with frustration and stress, but such emotions only become more taxing when I strain to control and manipulate circumstances that are outside my sphere of influence. God is good. He governs the world by his wisdom. I need only to cooperate with Him.”
VanderMay shared this beautiful grace, “When I serve Mass, the priest has me ring the big church bell so that all in the neighborhood would still know that even if they cannot be in the church, Jesus still comes and is searching for us all. He too, is waiting for us to be able to come together again.”
You can hear the gratitude and blessing in these words. Fr. Timothy Gallagher, says the key to the Examen prayer is gratitude. In fact, to be able to name God’s concrete gifts during the day, lies at the very heart of our entire relationship with God (The Examen Prayer: Ignatius wisdom for our Lives Today).
In these challenging and constantly changing times, in which we live, it is easy to see and focus on the negative rather than the positive and on the abundant graces that God continues to bestow on us. But as these witnesses attest, it is possible, even in the midst of a pandemic, to “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” remembering that “this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thes 5:16-17).