Year of the Examen
The Year of the Examen grounds us in prayer--in this case, a prayer Ignatius deemed an indispensable daily exercise for any Jesuit and pilgrim of the Lord. With its emphasis on God intimately at work in our personal, day-to-day lives, the Examen prayer is mighty in its relation to the mundane.
Across the year, all member of the Prep Community will be invited into experiences of the Examen in all of its fruits and graces, awakening us to the myriad applications and implications of this simple prayer for our professional and personal lives.
Meanwhile, the Society of Jesus recently called all those on mission to recommit to "Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises." The Year of the Examen is a direct response to this call from Rome, as the Examen is a microcosm of the Spiritual Exercises; an entry point into the discernment of spirits; and a way that invites us more deeply into reflective, loving relationship with God and each other.
So, Prep Citizens: this is our shared call, and our response--action that is hope-filled, faith-charged, life-giving, justice-seeking--finds direction and location in our daily reflection on experience through the small, profound gift of the Ignatian way.
Dear Prep Citizens,
The 2019-20 academic year will bring many wonderful opportunities to our home at 17th & Girard. We will welcome Mr. Andy Cavacos as the 26th Principal of our outstanding school as well as the 218 members of the Class of 2023. It is always so exciting to have the chance to illuminate our new students with the unique Jesuit teachings passed down from St. Ignatius of Loyola through more than 500 years through generations of Jesuit priests, educators, and students.
As we work to ensure that our students receive a first-class Jesuit education, we continue work on our strategic plan, Many Parts One Prep. The first goal of the plan is “Live our Catholic and Jesuit Identity.” I applaud the work of the Ignatian Engagement Committee, a working group of this goal consisting of dedicated colleagues, and join them in announcing that 2019-20 will be the “The Year of the Examen.” Across this year, our entire community will rediscover Ignatius’ small, life-changing prayer as a means to deepen our relationship with God and with each other. This year of Ignatian prayer also aligns us with the first of the Society’s recent issuing of four Universal Apostolic Preferences, “Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises.”
In addition to the “Year of the Examen,” the IEC designed and created a manual for Ignatian Formation Programming for all colleagues, new colleagues, students and parents for 2019-20 and beyond. This programming is inspired by an underlying principle, undergirded by an Ignatian vision that the committee was also charged to articulate. That vision roots itself in the Examen, in all of its myriad dynamics--but most centrally its location of the divine in all things, and its daily invitation to discerning God at work in each other and our lives. The Ignatian Engagement Committee proposed both this year’s theme and Ignatian formation programming after researching formation programming at over 35 Jesuit high schools across the country, taking into account our unique context and community at St. Joseph’s Prep.
As we are all Citizens of Prep Nation, we are invited to join in enhancing our Ignatian journey, no matter where on that journey we may be. I encourage you to visit the Prep homepage for more information and resources on the Year of the Examen, and to consider reading Jim Manney’s A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer. This summer, all colleagues will read Manney’s book, which is widely considered the most accessible, essential guide to the Examen and the riches of Ignatian Spirituality more broadly.
Whether you find yourself on the beach, in the mountains or traveling abroad, I encourage you to observe the graces that God has put in your line of vision. Take a few moments of gratitude for the community with a focus on what we can achieve together in the service of God.
Rev. John W. Swope, SJ ’72
In February, the Society of Jesus completed a 16-month discernment process that involved considerations of where all those called to serve should focus their ministries over the next ten years. Jesuits and lay representatives from across the world collaborated in prayer, discussion and graced reflection that resulted in four "Universal Apostolic Preferences."
The first of these preferences, "Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises” inspired and confirms the Prep's Year Examen as a framing, guiding vision and theme 2019-2020.
As we look to the horizon, these Apostolic Preferences--Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises, Walking with the Excluded, Caring for Our Common Home, and Journeying with Youth--will serve as valuable themes for our community to explore both now and in the next four years. Integrating these four core priorities into the plan and mission of our work and programming seems not just axiomatic but incumbent in nature for us as a Jesuit school.
We might note that while many of us have prayed the Examen, and as many colleagues have prayed the Examen in advisory with our students, we might not have much experience in the Examen ourselves, or want more understanding about the dynamics of the Examen, the microcosm of the Spiritual Exercises as it is. Or, more in tune with our current reality, we just can’t hear the prayer because of the fickle loudspeaker, or because that speaker doesn’t reach our location in the building. We might note that our students sense this disjointedness, too, and don’t authentically buy-in, let alone pray. For these reasons and more, programming in Ignatian formation this year will engage us in a re-imagining of the Examen in practice and principle in our various arenas and roles at the Prep.
There are as well the theoretical reasons the Examen is a sound reference point for programming. In the Ignatian tradition, this prayer is the foundational, life-giving formula for us and with us as loved sinners, people of reflection and discernment in light of the magis, a prayer that grows and deepens with time, age and experience, and one that assumes a sacramental view of day-to-day reality—one Ignatius deemed an absolutely indispensable part of the day. It is these reasons as well that call us--transcendent of our particular roles--to see the Examen as a reference point for programming as well as an underlying principle for our work, at once prayerful and pragmatic.
The Society’s recent identifying “Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises” as one of the four Apostolic Preferences (issued in February) further confirms and inspires the Examen as a framing, guiding vision and theme. On that note, as we look to the horizon, these Apostolic Preferences--Showing the Way to God: Discernment and the Spiritual Exercises, Walking with the Excluded, Caring for Our Common Home, and Journeying with Youth--will serve as valuable themes for our community to explore both now and in the next four years. Integrating these four core priorities into the plan and mission of our work and programming seems not just axiomatic but incumbent in nature for us as a Jesuit school.
The Year of the Examen will be at once prayerful and educational, as it roots us not just in the experience of this prayer, but also considerations of the prayer's myriad applications and implications for our personal and professional practices. Held in this exercise of prayer, sharing, and action, the Prep community walks together in faith, with the deepening of the life of Christ in each heart--and the renewal of our Ignatian identity and Jesuit mission at our home at 17th and Girard--as the great hope.
Examen #1-Traditional Examen
- Recall that you are in the presence of God. "God, I believe that at this moment I am in your presence and you are loving me."
- Ask for help from the Spirit. "God, you know my needs better than I know them. Give me your light and help as I review this day."
- Review your day. "God, help me to review the events of this day in order to recognize your blessings and my shortcomings."
- Ask for pardon and give thanks. "God, I ask your forgiveness for my failings and I thank you for all your blessings."
- Resolve to listen to God's voice. "As I look forward to the rest of this day make me aware that you are with me, show me how to become the person you want me to be."
Examen #2-Jim Manney
- Pray for light.
Begin by asking God for the grace to pray, to see, and to understand.
- Give thanks.
Look at your day in a spirit of gratitude. Everything is a gift from God.
- Review the day.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, look back on your day. Pay attention to your experience. Look for God in it.
- Look at what's wrong.
Face up to failures and shortcomings. Ask forgiveness for your faults. Ask God to show you ways to improve.
- Resolve what to do in the day to come.
Where do you need God today? What can you do today?
Examen #3-David Fleming SJ
A Prayer to God
God, thank you.
I thank you, God, for always being with me, but especially I am grateful that you are with me right now.
God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.
God, let the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind and warm my heart that I may know where and how we have been together this day.
God, let me look at my day.
God, where have I felt your presence, seen your face, heard your word this day?
God, where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?
God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.
God, I thank you for the times this day we have been together and worked together.
God, I am sorry for the ways that I have offended you by what I have done or what I did not do.
God, stay close.
God, I ask that you draw me ever closer to you this day and tomorrow.
God, you are the God of my life—thank you.
Examen #4-Jim Martin SJ
The Daily Examen
The examen, or examination of conscience, is a quick prayer to help you see where God was active in your day. Usually done for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of a day, the prayer was popularized by St. Ignatius Loyola in his classic text The Spiritual Exercises. Use these five easy steps to pray the examen every day, and soon you’ll begin to notice God’s presence more easily.
- Presence: Remember that you’re in the presence of God in a special way when you pray. Ask God for help in prayer.
- Gratitude: Recall two or three things that happened today for which you are especially grateful. Savor them. Then thank God for these gifts.
- Review: Review you day from start to finish, noticing where you experienced God’s presence. Notice everything from large to small: from an enjoyable interaction with a friend to the feel of the sun on your face. When did you love? When were you loved?
- Sorrow: You may have sinned today or done something you regret. Express your sorrow to God and ask for forgiveness. If it’s a grave sin, pray about seeking forgiveness from the person offended, or the sacrament of reconciliation.
- Grace: You may want to return to a meaningful part of your prayer and speak to God about how you felt. At the close of the prayer, ask for God’s grace for the following day.
Over time, as you pray the examen, you’ll notice God’s presence in the moment, rather than just at the end of the day. You’ll see that your whole day can be a kind of prayer. Soon you’ll discover that you’ve become, as Jesuits like to say, a “contemplative in action.”
Examen #5-Dennis Ham SJ
A Method: Five Steps
- Pray for light.
Since we are not simply daydreaming or reminiscing but rather looking for some sense of how the Spirit of God is leading us, it only makes sense to pray for some illumination. The goal is not simply memory but graced understanding. That’s a gift from God devoutly to be begged. “Lord, help me understand this blooming, buzzing confusion.”
- Review the day in thanksgiving.
Note how different this is from looking immediately for your sins. Nobody likes to poke around in the memory bank to uncover smallness, weakness, lack of generosity. But everybody likes beautiful gifts, and that is precisely what the past 24 hours contain–gifts of existence, work, relationships, food, challenges. Gratitude is the foundation of our whole relationship with God. So use whatever cues help you to walk through the day from the moment of awakening–even the dreams you recall upon awakening. Walk through the past 24 hours, from hour to hour, from place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking the Lord for every gift you encounter.
- Review the feelings that surface in the replay of the day.
Our feelings, positive and negative, the painful and the pleasing, are clear signals of where the action was during the day. Simply pay attention to any and all of those feelings as they surface, the whole range: delight, boredom, fear, anticipation, resentment, anger, peace, contentment, impatience, desire, hope, regret, shame, uncertainty, compassion, disgust, gratitude, pride, rage, doubt, confidence, admiration, shyness–whatever was there. Some of us may be hesitant to focus on feelings in this over-psychologized age, but I believe that these feelings are the liveliest index to what is happening in our lives. This leads us to the fourth moment:
- Choose one of those feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it.
That is, choose the remembered feeling that most caught your attention. The feeling is a sign that something important was going on. Now simply express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces as you attend to the source of the feeling–praise, petition, contrition, cry for help or healing, whatever.
- Look toward tomorrow.
Using your appointment calendar if that helps, face your immediate future. What feelings surface as you look at the tasks, meetings, and appointments that face you? Fear? Delighted anticipation? Self-doubt? Temptation to procrastinate? Zestful planning? Regret? Weakness? Whatever it is, turn it into prayer–for help, for healing, whatever comes spontaneously. To round off the examen, say the Lord’s Prayer.
A mnemonic for recalling the five points: LT3F (light, thanks, feelings, focus, future).
Take a few minutes to pray through the past 24 hours, and toward the next 24 hours, with that five-point format.
During the Year of the Examen all in the Prep community are encouraged to read Jim Manney's book, A Simple Life-Changing Prayer. If you would like to read Manney's book, you can order on Amazon by clicking here. All faculty and staff will read Manney's book in the summer of 2019 as preparation for the year.
For most people most of the time, prayer is hard. It is especially difficult—not to mention unsatisfying—when people experience it as formal, dry, and repetitious. But what might happen if you discovered a simple prayer that changed all that? What if you discovered a prayer that changed you?
In A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer, Jim Manney introduces Christians to a 500-year-old form of prayer that dramatically altered his perception of prayer and the way he prayed. The prayer is the examen, which St. Ignatius Loyola developed for the purpose of nurturing a reflective habit of mind that is constantly attuned to God’s presence. What makes the prayer so powerful is its capacity to dispel any notion that God is somewhere “up there,” detached from our day-to-day tasks and concerns. Instead, the examen leads us into a relationship with a God who desires to be personally caught up in the lives of those whom he created.
By following five simple yet powerful steps for praying the examen, as Manney outlines in his book, we can encounter the God who, as Scripture tells us, “is not far from each one of us”—the God whose presence in our lives can make all the difference in the world (Amazon Review)
“The Examen changed everything for me”...read the Preface of Manney’s book here.
The Examen changed everything for me, but it almost didn’t happen. For years I had occasionally heard people talk about the Examen as a good way to pray. I went to a Jesuit college; I remember one of my teachers saying that St. Ignatius Loyola himself thought that the Examen was the indispensible prayer. But I wasn’t interested because I thought they were talking about the Examination of Conscience.
This was the methodical inventory of sins that I was taught to do as a boy in Catholic schools in the 60s. I would work my way through lists of faults, toting up my offenses in preparation for the sacrament of Confession. This was a grim exercise. Also a confusing one. Lying I understood, and eventually I knew what lust was. But what was “acedia?” (It means spiritual laziness.) At any rate, the charm of the Examination of Conscience wore off as I grew older. I set it aside and moved on to other things (not all of them improvements). When people talked about the Examen, this is what I thought they meant. I wasn’t interested. I thought it was just the thing for people who like that kind of thing, and I wasn’t one of them.
Then I learned that the Ignatian Examen was not the old depressing Examination of Conscience. Quite the opposite. This was a prayer that focused on God’s presence in the real world. It looked to a God who was near to me, present in my world, and active in my life. It told me to approach prayer with gratitude, not guilt. It helped me find God in my life as I lived it, not in some heavenly realm beyond space and time. The Examen had me take myself seriously, as I am, not as I wished I was or thought I could be someday if I worked hard enough.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Examen changed everything. It might change things for you too.
In Manney’s words...
“The examen is an immediate solution to the problem of ‘what do I pray about?’ The answer is: everything that's happened to you. today. You might have the impression that your everyday life is the dreary same old, same old. It isn't. Daily life is rich and meaningful. Every encounter, every challenge, every disappointment, and every delight is a place where God can be found.” -Jim Manney
If you would like to read Manney's book you can order it on Amazon by clicking here.
- Jim Manney Talks about Praying the Examen
The Examen is a method of reviewing your day in the presence of God. Jim Manney, author of A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer, talks about praying the Examen.
- Jim Manney on Praying with Our Feelings--and Conversion
Praying with your Feelings
- Into the Examen
This video from St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco features a student trying out the Examen for himself. A teacher suggests the prayer to the student. In the face of worrying about a test, he looks back on the past 24 hours to notice where he has been distracted and what he can do to focus and take care of what’s bothering him.
“Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day”
- Dennis Hamm, SJ, a Scripture scholar, teaches in the department of theology at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. This article is widely considered an essential one in how and why we pray the Examen.
“Reflection and Our Active Lives”
- Internationally-known David Fleming SJ speaks on the power of prayerful reflection to deepen our spiritual lives and walk with God within the context of our busy days.
Explore More Examen Articles Here:
- More generally, www.ignatianspirituality.com is a rich resource for learning more about Ignatian Spirituality in all of its myriad dynamics.
Reimagining the Examen by Mark Thibodeux SJ in both the book form and app form are excellent ways to enrich our encounter with the Examen prayer. Fr. Thibodeux offers a variety of Examens particular to our various emotional, spiritual and physical needs and life circumstances. As described on both the book and app, “Reimagining the Examen offers a unique prayer experience that’s tailored to your needs and mood. Each Examen, based on St. Ignatius’ 500-year old prayer, guides you through a stimulating reflection on your day, helping you invite God into your nitty-gritty. Choose an Examen that matches your current state of being, or pray today’s scheduled reflection.”
Sample Examens You Will Find Through Thibodeux
- Am I Free or Unfree?
- Ask for Grace
- A Relationship
- Uncovering Hidden Truths
- Was I Present or Absent?
- Shifts in My Spirit
- Am I Ready to Die Today?
- Identifying Inner Wounds
- My Daily Habits
- Fears, Attachments, Control, Entitlement
- How to Pray the Daily Examen
This article presents a method of praying the Examen that is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible.