A few years ago, I signed up for a Lenten prayer series on St. Ignatius of Loyola. I knew very little about this popular saint, so I thought it would be good for me to learn about his life and sainthood. To be honest, in reality I learned very little about St. Ignatius, the man and saint, but I learned a lot about prayer through St. Ignatius’ method, The Examen.
The Examen, helps us look for signs of God’s presence in the ordinary activities of our day. By spending time reflecting on the everyday occurrences in our lives, like commuting to work, folding the laundry and reading emails, we discover that God is not only present for us in the “spiritual moments” of our lives, but also in the routine things we do. As Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic points out, “God loves the ordinary. The world tries to seduce us with the extraordinary. The culture fills our minds with dreams of home runs, but life is about getting up every day and hitting a single.”
Like Matthew Kelly, St. Ignatius believed we all need to celebrate ourselves as we are. The Examen helps us to take a good hard look at our lives – not through our lens, but through God’s lens. This examination is meant to be guilt-free. As we go through it, we are to remind ourselves that we are God’s beloved and look at our day, moment by moment, triumphs and failures – not so we can congratulate ourselves or beat ourselves up, but so we can take an honest look in the mirror. After all, as St. Ignatius points out, “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself.” Therefore, our prayer must be focused not on what God can do for us, but instead, on what we can do for God and one another.
In order to see our “real” selves, we first must get in the “proper” frame of mind. One of the ways we do this is by beginning with prayers of thanks to God. Have you ever thought about how lucky you are? The Examen helps you do this. Before going through your day, St. Ignatius invites you to spend a few minutes with God, thanking Him for His blessings. Of course, there are the standard things to be thankful for, like your family, your friends, the roof over your head, and the food on your table, but what about the walk you had with your friend or the phone call you received from a loved one? Better yet, what about the kind word spoken to you by your colleague or the fact that your son picked up after himself without having to be asked? There are many things to be thankful for every day. Our job is to look for them and discover God’s hand in all of it.
St. Ignatius teaches us that, “All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully.” So how do we find God in the ordinary? How do we feel God’s presence in our daily lives? If you’re like me, it’s not easy. It takes practice, patience and perseverance. For me, The Examen was extremely helpful. It helped me to develop a mindset of being thankful which made me feel fortunate and blessed; it also helped me to discover God’s presence in my daily life. Though I knew instinctively that God is continually active in my life, oftentimes I failed to see it or feel it. The more thankful I became, the more able I was to recognize God’s hand in my very ordinary life.
So, give The Examen a try. It has greatly enriched my life. I am confident it will do the same for you. (There’s even an app for it!)
Deb Egan grew up in a Catholic family. Throughout her adult life, she has participated as a church volunteer in many capacities, including teaching Religious Education, being a Eucharistic Minister and Lector, Ministering to the elderly and homebound, and Facilitating Small Faith Groups. She has been trained by Evangelical Catholic and became a member of the Build the Faith Team in April of 2017.