“After John’s arrest, Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. Reform your lives and believe in the gospel.’” — Mark 1: 14,15.
The Greek word for “repent” in the New Testament has the meaning of “change of heart” or “turning around.” When Jesus calls us to repent and believe, he is calling us to “turn to God and to the reign of God.”
One of the tried and true means of reforming one’s life or turning it around is the Ignatian Examen. As one element in the Ignatian Spirituality, it is recommended that the Examen be practiced at least once, and perhaps twice, each day for about 15 minutes. It involves five steps as expressed by Saint Ignatius Loyola:
- The First Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits I have received.
- The Second is to ask grace to know my sins and rid myself of them.
- The Third is to ask an account of my soul from the hour of rising to the present examen, hour by hour or period by period; first as to thoughts, then words, then deeds in the same order as was given for the particular examination.
- The Fourth is to ask pardon of God our Lord for my faults.
- The Fifth is to resolve, with his grace to amend them. Close with an Our Father.
As Father James Martin, S.J., notes, sin in this context can be seen as a “failure to bother.” We needn’t be filled with a great sense of guilt, but rather become aware of a failure to pay attention. God is present in every event of our daily lives—not only thoughts and words, but in smells and sounds and sights and feelings. The Examen can help us to be more attentive to that presence. For Ignatius, the most important aspect of Spirituality is finding God in all things. The attentiveness of the Examen can lead to such awareness, especially awareness of the presence of God in others.
The heart and goal of all Ignatian Spirituality is to “find God in all things.” Everything in the Spiritual Exercises leads to that goal. Saint Ignatius Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuits, composed The Spiritual Exercises between 1522 and 1548, and the central focus was on helping people find the freedom to make good decisions in life.
The original title was “Spiritual Exercises to Overcome Oneself, and to Order One’s Life, Without Reaching a Decision Through Some Disordered Affection.” For Ignatius, “disordered affections” were anything that kept us from being free.
Most of the Spiritual Exercises, including the Examen, was completed before the founding of the Jesuits. In fact, several members of the original Society had made the Spiritual Exercises before they agreed to follow Ignatius. Ignatius had intended these Exercises to be applicable to all Christians, and not just to members of a religious institute.
All members of the Society of Jesus are formed in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. However, it has been a central mission of Ignatius and his followers to share the Exercises with everyone they encounter. For Ignatius, the Examen was the most important part of the Exercises. His followers were encouraged to make the Examen daily, even if they could not perform any other spiritual activities. For those who practice the Examen faithfully, the obstacles to finding God in all things are slowly peeled away.
Hamm, S.J., Dennis, “Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day,” America, May 14, 1994.
Aschenbrenner, S.J., George, “Consciousness Examen,” Somos Catolicos, 1972
Zagano, Phyllis, “The Examen: Finding God in All Things,” Handout
Barry, S.J., William, Finding God in All Things, Ave Maria Press, 1991
de Mello, S.J., Anthony, Seek God Everywhere, Doubleday, 2010
Ganss, S.J., George, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Paulist Press, 1991
Martin, S.J., James, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, Harper One, 2010.
Go to the first website above, scroll to the bottom of the opening page and print out a copy of the handout by Phyllis Zagano, mentioned above. Use this as a guide for beginning a daily practice of the Examen.
Join the daily practice of the Examen to your daily Centering Prayer. Both will put you into intimate contact with God and will bear the fruits of finding God in all things in your daily life.