Build Gratitude through the Examen

In the Office of Vocations we are busy preparing for another summer of Duc In Altum — “put out into the deep.” (Luke 5.4) This coming week we will train two teams of four and one team of five young adults and send them out as missionary disciples, crisscrossing the diocese evangelizing and catechizing our children, youth and families in the Tradition, beauty and the richness of our Catholic Faith.

One of the many topics that we will present this week, beside the Creed and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary is the Examen Prayer. The Examen is a method of prayer that Ignatius of Loyola taught in his Spiritual Exercises. The Examen Prayer is a method of prayerful reflection on the events of one’s day in order to take notice God’s presence and how one responded in generosity or held back on the movements of the Lord in ones heart throughout one’s day. This prayer also offers us the opportunity to look at those choices one has made that are not of God.

There are number of adaptions to the way one prays the Examen prayer, but traditionally there are five steps. In Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today, he gives this outline as a guide in praying the Examen:

  • Transition: I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this Examen.
  • Step One: Gratitude. I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day, and I give thanks to God for them.
  • Step Two: Petition. I ask God for an insight and a strength that will make this Examen the work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone.
  • Step Three: Review. With my God, I review the day. I look for the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day. I look also those that have not been of God. I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general.
  • Step Four: Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens.
  • Step Five: Renewal. I look to the following day and, with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life.
  • Transition: Aware of God’s presence with me, I peacefully conclude my Examen.

If you have never prayed the examen before or have been lukewarm in its practice, I encourage you to give it a try this week. It is right in line with the lens of lively faith: prayer, study, and formation in our stewardship initiative.  The Examen prayer also roots our lives in gratitude, which is the foundation of living Stewardship as a Way of Life.

Father Gallagher also gives this wonderful example of how to live and pray the Examen together as a family. He recounts how a father and mother, with their four young children, pray a family Examen together. The mother describes it this way: “For the last several years, my husband and I have introduced Examen as part of our evening meal with our four children (ages thirteen, ten, seven, and four). Using a very simple adaptation of the Examen, we propose these two questions: What have you been most grateful for today? What have you been least grateful for today?”

The mother goes on to say the sharing of their responses to these two questions become the material for their dinner table discussion. Each member is given a turn to respond to the questions with other members of the family listening respectively (on this point we try!) In the end the mother said, “It encourages us to listen to each other, and at times to be challenged to listen more than superficially. It helps our children to learn to get in touch with their inner experience, and to learn to share that with others.”

I would be curious to hear your experience in praying the Examen prayer individually or with your family.

St. Ignatius pray for us!

Disposition isn’t everying, but . . .

One of my favorite lines during priest retreat this year by Fr. John Horn, who was our director, was “disposition isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything.” I like this definition of disposition, the way in which something is placed or arranged, especially in relation to other things. I thought about disposition when I was visiting with Bishop Gruss about the opening Mass for the cause of canonization of Nicholas Black Elk — Servant of God, last Saturday at Holy Rosary Mission in Pine Ridge. 

​My heart was moved to hear that Bishop Gruss went to Manderson before the Mass so that he could visit and spend some time praying at the grave of Nicholas Black Elk.  I wish I would have thought of this myself. To be honest, it did not even cross my mind that this would be a good thing to do. It never entered my heart.

Bishop Gruss, had the right disposition, I am sure moved by the Holy Spirit, and arranged his day to give him sufficient time to go to Manderson first to visit the grave of Nicholas Black Elk and then go on to Holy Rosary Mission in Pine Ridge for the opening Mass. 

Hearing of Bishop Gruss’ side trip to Manderson left me with an ache in my own heart, wishing that I had made the time to pray at the grave of Nicholas Black Elk beforehand.

This experience has taught me that disposition is connected to being more aware of, or paying more attention to, the details of my day and the movements of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps during my examen the night before, I should look at the coming day or during my morning offering I can be more intentional in praying to the Holy Spirit to reveal to me the right disposition of my heart, to ask for the grace to pay attention to the finer details of the day so that I will not continue to miss those important side trips in my life.