An integral part of Ignatian spirituality is the Examen, a daily reflection on how we are living our lives and how we are following God’s plan. The Examen is meant to be practiced twice each day, at noon and at the end of the day, and takes about 15 minutes to complete. It is not to be confused with the Examination of Conscience, which is done before confession.
There are five steps to the Examen:
1. Recognize the Presence of God
We are always in the presence of God but we need to become very attentive to His presence, especially when we are in prayer.
1a. Reflect on Your Day With Gratitude
Think back on all of the favors God has granted you during the day, every little positive detail, and be grateful for each of them. Recognize that many of the everyday things that you take for granted – your skills and abilities, your health, the ways you help others – are gifts from God to be grateful for.
2. Pray for the Help of the Holy Spirit
Sometimes referred to as “prayer for the Light,” asking the Holy Spirit for help and wisdom is a pivotal piece of the Examen. We ask for help with discerning movements of the soul and emotions, as well as finding favors from God to be grateful for and shortcomings in our day that need to be remedied.
3. Review the Day
Note your victories and shortcomings, but do not become too absorbed in them. Focus especially on how you have found God today, or how you have failed to do so. Also think about how you have brought others to God today, how others have brought God to you, and how you have recognized the presence of God in the day.
3a. Three popular questions to ponder here are:
1. What have I done for Christ?
2. What am I doing for Christ?
3. What ought I do for Christ?
3b. Pay Attention to Your Emotions
Take note of spiritual consolations (feelings of peace, security, and love from God) and also spiritual desolations (feelings of anxiety, restlessness, doubt, and self-pity that take us away from God). Strong feelings one way or the other may indicate that there is something spiritually important to be aware of.
4. Acknowledge and Reconcile Your Failures
Talk to Jesus. Discuss your failures. The failures that you are looking to reconcile here are “not particularly sinful, but not particularly smart either.” Apologize to God for your shortcoming and allow yourself to feel sorrow for the misstep, but also show gratitude to God for giving you the wisdom to see your failures. If any of our failures were grave sins we would of course head to the sacrament of reconciliation to fully heal the spiritual wounds.
Finally, accept your weaknesses and realize that you are a work in progress, constantly trying to become a better child of God.
5. Look Toward the Next Day
Take what you have learned and remember how you have seen God. Strive to be improving yourself from one day to the next.
Repeating the Examen twice a day allows us to be aware of ourselves, but also to watch how God is working in our lives day to day and in the long term.
If you would like a great guide to take you through the Examen, I recommend “Examen” from Fr. George Aschenbrenner.