From the Heart of the Shepherd
By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor
From the bulletin for the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time (November 12, 2023)
Parish School of Prayer, Pt 1: The Daily Examen
Week nights of my high school winters were spent working at the Highland Ice Arena’s concession stand. The memory of it still conjures up the giant pretzels and Powerades that were my meal as I drove home after a shift. Prior to finishing off those “leftovers,” however, each night ended with closing the till: counting the cash, subtracting the starting balance, and recording the revenue. I think, in fact, I texted the amount to my supervisor, who wrote it in the ledger.
When we are serious about anything, we regularly evaluate our efforts to see how business is going. The spiritual life is no different. In fact, because it alone provides us “with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Lk 12:33), we ought to be all the more diligent to monitor our progress so we make necessary adjustments and ensure that we are not laboring in vain.
The daily examen prayer does just that. A surprising number of those who made their Time & Talent pledge expressed interest in learning more about this venerable and essential spiritual practice. See it as a Christian’s ordinary way of fulfilling Christ’s repeated command to “be watchful and vigilant.” It’s our time to “check the tapes” and examine the books of the business that is our soul: review our thoughts, words, and deeds; evaluate the various movements of our soul; discern when the Good Spirit was acting on it, and when the evil one was operative; recognize failures and successes; and recalibrate our activity as appropriate.
The natural time to do the examen is at the end of the day. It doesn’t need to take more than five minutes, though ten to fifteen could still be employed fruitfully in this exercise. The following steps can serve as a pattern:
First, dispose yourself to enter the presence of God. The examen is, after all, a prayer, i.e. a conversation with the Almighty. Intentionally direct all your being--mind, heart, body, affections, desires, thoughts--to Him and His glory. Like St. Dominic did (literally) in his prayer postures, make yourself an arrow pointing to Heaven!
Second, beg the Holy Spirit to come and give you light to recognize His presence and to know yourself (“Lord, that I might see!”). If you have difficulties with the examen, try prolonging and intensifying this step.
Third, review the hours since your last examen. You are not simply remembering what happened or scanning for sins; you are evaluating the transactions of your soul: what holy resolutions did you keep or fail to enact? Did I make good use of my time and talents? What inspirations did you receive and respond to? Did those come from the world, the flesh, the devil, or the Holy Spirit? What passions of the soul were you subject to? Did you ever let these get the better of you? If you committed any sin, what led up to it? What occasions did you hazard or rationalizations did you accept? How was God at work in your life? Were you forgetful of Him? What attachments impeded you from following Him more closely? What opportunities did He provide to grow in virtue, deny yourself, turn to Him? How did you respond? Etc. etc.
Fourth (and this step can be woven into #3), allow your heart to respond accordingly. Praise God for His fidelity and presence in your life. Thank Him for benefits received. Credit Him for any victories. Grieve and repent of your infidelities. Resolve to do better according to the light He gives you. Beg Him for His grace and mercy.
Finally, conclude with a bit of focus. We should always have something particular we are working on in the spiritual life; some targeted area of improvement. Evaluate your efforts (or lack thereof) in that regard, and come to a concrete resolution about how you intend to renew the battle going forward, asking God for the grace to correspond well with His inspirations here.
I’ll be honest: after over twelve years of making the examen twice daily (25 minutes total according to our rule!) it is still a struggle. In fact, it is probably the most tedious part of my day. But even when poorly done, the benefits of fidelity here are enormous. It does indeed transform us into those watchful stewards. It produces self-knowledge, sensitivity to God’s activity, spiritual discernment, humility, purity of conscience, and self-awareness. It leads us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5), in whose will we find our profit and our peace.