How To Pray the Examen Prayer

imag0079Here is an example of how you can pray the examen during an Hour of Adoration or a longer time of prayer—perhaps in the evening.

1. Place Yourself in God’s Presence

This is a moment like that of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor: Jesus is here before you, wishing to bathe you in the radiance of his love, wanting to speak to you. This is a moment of very personal encounter between you and Jesus. Take this moment to rest in the light of his gaze of unconditional love for you. Allow his love to fill you—perhaps with awareness of his presence, or peace, or joy—whatever grace he wishes to give you at this moment.

2. In Gratitude

In the light of his love, look over your day or the past week, with gratitude. What are the gifts you have received this day/week? Give thanks to God for the blessings that immediately spring to mind. Now look deeper. Have you received a special grace this day or week for which you want to thank God? A hidden gift that you took for granted until now? Or a little joy that reminded you of how loved you are? Remember also to thank God for the special gifts that he has given you, in your person—whether it’s a talent to serve or to cook, or to listen, or your patience, or a gift to encourage others… Thank God for these gifts.

3. Petition

Confident in God’s desire to draw you closer to himself, now ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and to help you gently look over the day or week in the light of his grace and your response to his grace.

4. Gently Review Your Day/Week

Look through your life in these days/week. A particular event might spring to mind right away—that might be God’s invitation to spend some time with him reflecting on it. If nothing comes to mind, look through the events of your day, especially noticing what’s going on inside of you—your motivations and feelings.

Good questions to ask yourself:

  • When did you feel loved today? How were you able to show love to someone else?
  • What drew you closer to God today?
  • What drew you away from God today?
  • What kind of moods were present in you today? Why?
  • What regrets do you carry for today?
  • Where were God’s invitations to you today? How did you respond?
  • Do any events seem to be unfinished, requiring some reflection or making you feel uncomfortable, angry, or fearful? How might God be inviting you in this situation?

5. Renewal of love and resolve

Express whatever is in your heart to Jesus—how you feel about the events of this day or week, how you have grown closer to him, asking forgiveness for your sinfulness and failures. In a particular way, ask him to be with you in the coming day or week.

Close with a prayer for the grace to live in his love, such as the Our Father.

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3D Listening to God: with the Examen Prayer

bible study and notesOne of the reasons we seek to pray through the day is so that we can hear God’s daily invitations to us. How can we cultivate this attitude of listening to God in our daily life? The examen prayer is one of the best tools to help us listen to God’s invitations to us in our daily life. It is recommended by the saints—St. Francis de Sales, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and most notably St. Ignatius of Loyola, who developed this prayer in the way we discuss it below.

Foundationally, the examen is a way to recognize God’s presence in our life today. As a tool to help us to listen to God in my daily life, it’s best used as a daily practice. St. Ignatius recommends making the examen “formally” twice a day: around noon and in the evening; in his Examen App, Fr. Michael Denk provides an easy option to schedule it into your day. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I totally recommend Father Denk’s Examen App, which will guide you through the whole process—either through words on the screen, or through his videos.

The Jesuits have developed many wonderful resources to help someone learn and use this powerful practice of prayer, and many are available online. You can find videos, audio files, articles, and printed materials here.

For those who are hesitant about making the exam, not interested in the app, or already pray the examen and would like to explore it further, let’s take a deeper look.

To get started, you may wish to look over the five steps for the examen I posted earlier, or read through this attractive printable PDF card provided by www.ignatianspirituality.com:

 

examenprayerignatianspirituality

The five steps may be described differently, but the basic “movements” of the examen are:

  • Remember that we are in the presence of God
  • Note and thank God for God’s gifts to us
  • Ask for divine light to discern God’s presence in our day and in our life, and to gain insight into our own choices and hearts
  • Review the events of our day, paying attention to how we responded to God’s gifts and invitations, and especially noting our thoughts and the stirrings of our heart. We ask forgiveness for the times that we have turned away from God’s gifts and invitations.
  • Renew my love for God, my trust that God is with me, and my resolve to act in accord with God’s invitations as I look forward to tomorrow (or the rest of my day)

Blessed James Alberione (Founder of the Daughters of Saint Paul) told us that praying the examen is crucial  for growing in the spiritual life. He advocated praying it preventively in the morning during meditation, making the examen during our daily Hour of Adoration, again at noon, and again at evening prayer. For him, the practice of the examen is one of the best ways to grow in self-knowledge and in humility.

To make the examen well, Blessed James Alberione recommends writing down the main points: the gifts that God has given us, the events of our day and how we have responded, and our renewal of our resolve. The Examen App actually gives you a place to journal on your phone or tablet, but non-digital folks can use a small notebook.

Above all, Blessed James saw the examen as a path towards what he called “the habitual examen.” In other words, praying the examen through the day is meant to bring us to living mindfully, aware of our thoughts and desires, our words and choices, as we are living them. For Alberione, the goal of the examen is to bring us to a place where “my heart is with Jesus,” where the desires of Jesus become our desires. In other words, to live continuously in a spirit of discernment.

“The important thing is that the strings of my heart are tuned for the melody we want to play, that is the hymn: ‘Glory to God and peace to humanity.’ The essential purpose of the exam is to see whether or not these strings play this melody well. The strings of my heart are my interior dispositions. Therefore, they need to be played in order to know what they sound like. Do they sing of the glory of God? Or do they sing my self-love?” – Bl. James Alberione

As a follow-up to this post, try to make the examen prayer today or this week. Please feel free to contact me in the comments or via email with any questions you have about this beautiful and helpful form of praying that can draw us deeper into a spirit of discernment. In my next post, I’ll share a personal example of how I pray with the examen prayer during my Hour of Adoration.