By Father Corey Close
I am currently in the process of training to become a spiritual director and last month had the great opportunity to take a week to pray, reflect and learn more about this profound ministry.
Of the topics we discussed, the one that struck me the most was delving into the Examine of Consciousness as laid down by Ignatius of Loyola. I have heard of the Examine for many years, but until now it had always eluded my understanding. Even when reading about the Examine, it remained a mystery to me. Finally, by the grace of God and good teaching, I think I have finally found why some refer to it as the heartbeat of the spiritual life.
The first and perhaps most important concept to understand is that for Ignatius the core of the spiritual life is to “Find God in all things.” At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is the trust in God that he is working in and through all that occurs in our day — whether through the good to bless us, the bad to comfort and challenge us, or the sinful, calling us back to his love and his peace — he is ever working through all the events of our lives, not simply the high-profile ones. This insight weaves its way through all that Ignatius teaches, and most especially through his Examine.
But what is the Examine? It is a reflection on the past day, usually before one goes to bed, delving through the day to see how God was blessing us and how we received it and how we drew away from God and why. So let us go through the five steps of an Examine:
• Ask the Holy Spirit for enlightenment and insight into what occurred during the day. This is usually a short prayer.
• See where God was laboring to love you. Go through your day, moment by moment, and see how God was loving you in and through the day. “Love consists then in this, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us.” (1 John 4:10). God is the initiator of love in our lives, not us, and as we look through the day, we perceive how he was loving us.
• Ask yourself, how did I pull away from God’s love (through sin) and, more importantly, why? This is where we examine the sinful parts of our day. Rather than simply acknowledging our sin and asking pardon, we actively look at what thoughts, feelings and desires drove us to choose the sin. What took me away from God’s love? Why didn’t I feel he had the answer to my needs in that particular moment? This can be very revealing, but is impossible to do on our own. Know that God loves us deeply and without reservation, even when we sin. Thus, we are not self-incriminating, but rather seeing how and why we wandered from so loving a Father. Usually it is because we have yet to be fully convinced in his total love for us and so we seek it elsewhere.
• Pray for deepening sorrow for sins. For the sins we have committed, we pray for our hardened hearts to be converted deeper into true sorrow and repentance. Too often we are sorry for our sins out of fear of God’s retribution or to “get good with him” again, rather than a true, heartfelt sorrow for the evil we have unleashed on the world. We ask the Lord at this time to give us the grace of true contrition and sorrow for the evil we have done.
• Ask for help with resolutions. Having seen how we stray from the Lord, we ask the Holy Spirit to help us make a plan for the future. Thus, when faced with the same situation again, instead of reverting to our old sins, we will consciously stay in the Lord’s loving embrace and see the temptation or trial through to the end.
I have found that doing this Examine before going to bed has really helped me to pay attention during the day to how God is loving me and to how I wander away from that love.
It has made me more intentional in my moment to moment activities, so that I’m not just floating through my spiritual life, hoping my sins will go away. But even more important, it allows me to see the many blessings the Lord is bestowing on me at every moment. It teaches me to be more conscious of his eternal, ever-blessing love for me and that is precisely what Ignatius said it would do! I promise that if you take the time — about 10 to 15 minutes before you fall asleep — the Examine can help you to “Find God in all things.” It will draw you closer to God’s love for you and help you to let go of the ways you wander from that love. God bless!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)