Weekly Practice: Daily Examen

We have now entered Easter, that beautiful season of grace and joy in the church calendar. We have seen Jesus triumph, we have been rescued and redeemed, our sin no longer means death, we have been united with Christ, and we can now live in relationship with him.

Every year, this celebration of Easter reinforces just how much God loves us, and his deep desire for unity with us. It always makes me consider how I can more deeply integrate my life with the life of Christ and live with deep love and gratitude.

One way I have endeavoured to more deeply integrate my life with Christ is to regularly spend time acknowledging my sin and failings. Friends will joke about the “ol’ Catholic guilt”, and there is probably an element of truth to this. But if this “Catholic guilt” leads me to love the spiritual practice of the Daily Examen, then I’m ok with it.

I think one of the most freeing activities we can do is sit with and acknowledge our sin. This doesn’t mean to wallow in our inability to live a perfect life, but to take stock of our failures so we can then start the journey of change and experience more fully the grace freely given.

The Daily Examen, gifted to us by St Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, is a daily practice of examining our lives. This practice, which can be done in 10 minutes or in half an hour, is wonderful and grounding. It always gives me a sense of meaning and hope that my strivings throughout the day have a point. Although my sin and failings hinder a full relationship with God, the act of recognising them and coming to God in repentance and gratitude is the most freeing thing I can do. It also allows me to recognise Gods’ presence in all the highs and lows of my day.

In this season of lockdown, good routines and practices have become a lifeline. So, when the days begin to blur and Groundhog Day feels more real than ever, the practice of the Daily Examen can bring meaning and focus. It makes us more aware of God in all moments and reminds us of the areas in our life that need to change. Below I outline a simple Examen that I like to follow at the end of each day. I hope you find it encouraging and helpful.

  1. Recall – go over your day, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. What stood out? (this can be just a couple of things). With the Spirit’s inspiration, seek to recognise what drew you close to God and what pulled you away.
  2. Gratitude – thank God for all of it! The good and the bad, the things that filled your heart, and the moments you didn’t understand. Allow this gratitude to take you outside yourself and to place God back at the centre of all things.
  3. Reflection – go over your day and recall what stood out to you. What were your motivations? What emotions were at the fore? Where did you fail? Where were you hopeful?
  4. Sorrow – sin is a part of our day, but this is an amazing opportunity to name our failings, sit with the weight of them, notice patterns of behaviour and any underlying factors, and bring them to God, asking for his forgiveness.
  5. Hopefulness – tomorrow is a new day! You are loved and forgiven! Resolve to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as you endeavour to live a life with God at the centre of everything.
  6. Finish with a prayer.

Going through this process can then lend itself to other forms of processing, whether that be journalling, going for a prayer walk, or talking through an issue or revelation with a spouse, flat mate, friend or family member. Be open to the different ways God will use this time of daily examining, and be encouraged that God, who is over all and through all and in all things, will continue his good work in you for his glory.

(Image: St. Ignatius Loyola, from Loyolla Press)