“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
Ignatius of Loyola was a 16th century Spanish monk and the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order. Part of Jesuit spirituality was participation in the Spiritual Exercises, a month-long contemplation on the life of Christ as a guide for one’s spiritual life. A significant part of the spiritual exercises are the practices of Examen in which the practitioner uses introspection to gain insight into his/her character, spiritual life, and relationship with God.
The Spiritual Exercises begin with a time of introspection. Specifically, Ignatius describes two forms of examination: a particular examination of conscience and a general examination of conscience. Each plays an important role in Ignatian spirituality, specifically in the discernment of the spirits and the resolution to be transformed by God.
In the particular examination, Ignatius calls those who are participating in the Exercises to examine their hearts twice a day in order to discern the presence of God. When you arise in the morning, you are to pray about the one particular sin or fault that you want to overcome that day. Each time you sin you are recognize that sin when you commit it during the day and ask forgiveness for that sin. Twice a day (typically noon and supper) you are challenged to reflect on your day to this point, particularly in light of the sin that you resolved earlier in the day to correct. Each hour should be examined, and you should place a dot on the line for the number of times you fell into that sin. The same practice is repeated at supper, and then the subsequent day. Throughout the week the chart is consulted to see what progress is being made, and the goal is to have fewer dots as each day of the week progresses. The ultimate goal is to “rid myself of [the sins] to the extent they hinder me.”
The general examination of conscience is the second type of Examen. This is to help discern any particular sins or problems in our lives that we might need to confess to another. Ignatius summarizes the general Examen in five points:
- Give thanks to God for his benefits
- Ask grace to know my own sins
- Ask an account of the soul from the hour of my arising
- Ask pardon for my faults.
- Resolve to amend them, with God’s grace.
The Examen is then closed with prayer. Also, if any confession is warranted you are encouraged to seek out someone to whom you can confess your sins and need for forgiveness.
David Fleming presents the Examen as a prayer to God. Each of Ignatius’ steps is seen as a prayer rather than a stepping stone. The prayer is as follows:
- God, thank you. This is a thanksgiving for God’s presence in our lives and a reminder that God is with us right now.
- God, send your Holy Spirit upon me. Let the Spirit give me wisdom so I can see where you have been with me today.
- God, let me look at my day. Where have I seen you near? “Where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?”
- God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.
- God, stay close.
For Fleming, “sin is essentially a failure of gratitude” towards God because “we do not fully grasp what God has done for us.” Thus, the Examen becomes a prayer of thanksgiving and forgiveness.
There are as many different ways to practice the Examen as there are practitioners. Indeed, Thibodeaux gives thirty-one different ways of discerning one’s call and the blessings/challenges of one’s day. The only thing that limits the reach of the Examen is one’s imagination.
I will be posting more about the Examen throughout the week. Today, try using Fleming’s prayer as a way of practicing the Examen.
 Summarized from Spiritual Exercises, 24-32.
 Ibid., 23.
 Ignatius attributes these sins to three factors: our own desires, good spirits, and evil spirits. These three war within our souls. See Ibid., 32.
 Summarized from Fleming, KL 173-177. The sections in bold and quotes are quotations, while the rest are summaries of the ideas presented within.
 Ibid., KL189.
 Mark E. Thibodeaux, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015). Although he presents the traditional Examen (using Relish, Request, Review, Repent, and Resolve), he also provides a number of different ways of thinking about the Examen including new questions and reflections.