At the end of May, the Office of Vocations was busy preparing for another summer of Duc In Altum — “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4). We trained two teams of four and one team of five young adults, sending them out as missionary disciples, to crisscross the diocese evangelizing and catechizing our children, youth and families in the tradition, beauty and the richness of our Catholic faith.
The teams will focus on the Apostles Creed and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary this year. In addition to giving them information on the topics they will teach, we spent time with our young adults cultivating their interior life through the heart of St. Ignatius Loyola by teaching and accompanying them in some of his prayer practices; meditation and contemplation of the Scriptures and the Examen prayer.
The Examen is a method of prayer that Ignatius of Loyola taught in his “Spiritual Exercises.” It is a method of prayerful reflection on the events of one’s day in order to take notice of God’s presence and how one responded in generosity or held back on the movements of the Lord in one’s heart throughout the day. This prayer also offers us the opportunity to look at those choices one has made that are not of God.
There are a number of adaptions to the way one prays the Examen prayer, but traditionally there are five steps. In Father Timothy Gallagher’s book, “The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today,” he gives this outline as a guide in praying the Examen:
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 the 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 look also at 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 peacefully conclude my Examen.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius teaches that the practice of the Examen begins when the foundational desire of our hearts is to “seek and find the divine will in the disposition of our lives” (Spiritual Exercise, 1). “The root of the practice of Examen will always be desire: a desire that is an awareness of the immense love of the God who is ever close to us, a desire enkindled within us when we wish to respond daily, moment by moment, to God’s love, and the desire that is, finally, a gift to be sought in humble and trusting prayer to the God who promises that searching hearts will find their desire.” (Gallagher)
In Luke 11:9 we read, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
St. Ignatius says he becomes aware of the love with which God looks upon him as he begins the Examen. I love this part of the prayer, in which we allow God the Father not only to look upon us, but to gaze upon us.
I don’t even like to look at myself in the mirror, however, this is not so with God. God looks upon me with love. John of the Cross says: “The look of God is love and pouring out of gifts.” Ignatius says before beginning the Examen prayer we should pause for the time it takes to pray an Our Father, allowing God to gaze upon us (Spiritual Exercise, 75).
If you have never prayed the Examen, or have been lukewarm in its practice, I encourage you to give it a try this week. It is right in line with the lens of lively faith: prayer, study, and formation in our stewardship initiative. The Examen prayer also roots our lives in gratitude, which is the foundation of living Stewardship as a Way of Life.
Father Gallagher shares that this prayer can be prayed individually and together as a family. He recounts how a father and mother, with their four young children, pray a family Examen together.
The mother describes it this way: “For the last several years, my husband and I have introduced Examen as part of our evening meal with our four children (ages 13, 10, seven, and four). Using a very simple adaptation of the Examen, we propose these two questions: What have you been most grateful for today? What have you been least grateful for today?”
The mother goes on to say the sharing of their responses to these two questions become the material for their dinner table discussion. Each member is given a turn to respond to the questions with other members of the family listening respectively (on this point we try!). In the end the mother says, “It encourages us to listen to each other, and at times to be challenged to listen more than superficially. It helps our children to learn to get in touch with their inner experience, and to learn to share that with others.”
I would be curious to hear your experience in praying the Examen prayer — individually or with your family.
St. Ignatius, pray for us!