By Patrick Howard
Unleash the Gospel
Taking just 15 minutes a day, the Examen prayer will transform your life. Some think the Examen prayer is merely an examination of conscience that one should do each night before going to bed, considering our sins and asking God for forgiveness with the intention of doing better tomorrow. But the Examen prayer is so much more than that. Praying it as St. Ignatius of Loyola taught can lead to a deeper relationship with God and help you become more aware of God’s presence in your day and respond to his direction.
What is the Examen?
The Examen prayer is a spiritual practice observed by Christians in some form or another throughout the Church’s history. In the 1500s, St. Ignatius of Loyola established a precise method of doing the Examen prayer daily. This prayer is an opportunity to review your day with God, looking for areas where you are responding to the movement of the Holy Spirit and areas where you might be resisting it. By becoming more aware of this, and actively responding to God, he will draw you into deeper relationship with him.
Why pray the Examen?
Father Timothy Gallagher, O.M.V., has written an excellent book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today, that explains in detail what this prayer is, how to practice it and its effects. Father Gallagher identifies the many fruits that come from praying the Examen daily. These benefits include significant spiritual growth and a discerning awareness throughout the day to better respond to life with God rather than merely reacting to everything.
If we are to grow as joyful missionary disciples, it’s important that we develop this ability to listen to the Spirit and be docile to him each day. We will make wiser and more prudent decisions that help us live in his peace, do his will and experience his joy. Praying the Examen daily will also help us to love and serve our family, coworkers, friends and others around us with more wisdom and spiritual strength.
How do I pray the Examen?
Find a place where you are able to reflect on your day with God in prayer. Try to set aside 15 minutes for the prayer each day. Many people choose to pray the Examen at the end of the day.
These are the five major components of St. Ignatius’ Examen prayer as related by Father Gallagher. You may find that on different days you are drawn to spend more time on certain parts of the prayer and less on others. Allow yourself to follow the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Review God’s gifts to you during the day. This will help you recognize God’s unlimited love for you and inspire you to respond in gratitude. We should not rush past this step but allow it to shape our relationship with God through gratitude.
Recognizing that you cannot make a fruitful Examen merely by your own efforts, in this step, petition God asking him for the graces to make your Examen fruitful. Ask for an understanding of how God is working in you — and what is happening within you that is opposed to God’s will. With his help, you can more freely respond to his grace in your day.
Now review your day and your interior experience of it. Where was God in your day? What was he calling you to in each moment and how did you respond to it? Did you have thoughts and feelings leading you away from God’s plan for you, and did you discern and resist those?
Look for where God may be leading you with spiritual consolation: peace, calm, joy. Look also for experiences of spiritual desolation: discouragement, fear, anxiety, bitterness. In responding to those experiences, did you react to the desolation by choosing against where God is leading you, or did you resist that temptation remaining trusting in him?
Also ask where God is calling you to grow morally, seeing where you may have fallen short. This process will help you become more aware of where the Holy Spirit is moving, and where the enemy is trying to discourage you. This will help you to continue to grow in freedom to love God and others more perfectly and to be aware of his constant loving presence and help throughout the day.
After reviewing your day, ask God for forgiveness for the times you failed to do — or not do — what you ought. You can approach this time with deep trust knowing that you are loved and held perfectly by God regardless of your imperfections and brokenness. Here you should allow God to love us and, through his forgiveness, free and transform us.
In this final step, based on the previous steps, decide what actions you will make for continued spiritual growth tomorrow. How can you best follow where God is leading you? How will you wisely make the best choices that you face in light of what you have discovered today in your prayer? Make these proposals of how you intend to live and respond to tomorrow with the help of God’s grace.
If you pray the Examen daily, you will become more comfortable with it, and your ability to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life will be sharpened. Your strength and ability to respond with wisdom to God’s presence and call will continue to increase as you grow into a deeper trusting relationship with him.
If you are interested in integrating the Examen prayer in your life, check out Father Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today.