Saint Ignatius of Loyola insisted on never neglecting the Daily Examen. For no reason whatsoever would this great saint justify skipping over and neglecting this all-important prayer. Starting now, why not make a proposal to make your own personal Daily Examen. If done, the fruits are countless and the blessings copious from such a tool, an indispensable tool to erect a solid structure for a life of authentic holiness.
In this brief essay we will highlight and briefly explain the five classical steps of making the Daily Examen. Then, as a means for motivation, we will highlight some of the blessings that will descend upon you in your spiritual life.
If you read through essays, writings, articles and even books on this topic, the order and words vary, but the concept never changes. The key element is that the Daily Examen should be proposed by all those with good will and put into practice.
The Five Classical Steps for the Ignatian Daily Examen:
1. Recall the Presence of God
All authentic prayer starts with calling to mind the all-abiding Presence of God. We are never far from God, and God is never far from us! Saint Paul, quoting the Greek poet, expresses it as such: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Therefore, start your Daily Examen by gently calling to mind the all-abiding, all-permeating presence of God. God is present in all times, all places, all circumstances, and all events. Even when our life seems to be a dark night of the soul, God is as present as the sun shining at midday! Add to this that our God is a loving Father who always desires what is best for His children. Therefore, we should respond with trust, confidence, and love.
2. Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good; His Love Endures Forever (Ps 136:1)
Saint Ignatius insists on the importance of gratitude. We should all cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Saint Ignatius states that the very essence of sin is ingratitude—a lack of rendering to God a heartfelt thanks! In all humility, every gift that we have in our life—intellectual, athletic, artistic, spiritual, supernatural, etc.—all are gifts from the Father of all gifts. Therefore, rewind the film of your life since your last Daily Examen to see what you have been gifted with and allow your heart to expand in an overflowing act of thanksgiving. In a word, all that we have (except our sins—those we willfully chose and God allowed) are gratuitous gifts from our all-bountiful Heavenly Father. Indeed, God loves a grateful heart and He is ready and willing to shower thankful hearts with more and more blessings! How much Jesus suffered when after healing ten lepers, only one came back to pay Him thanks!
3. Beg God to Send the Holy Spirit to See Yourself as God Sees You
In your Daily Examen beg for the Gift of Gifts, the Holy Spirit to shed light on your intellect, to help you rewind your past block of time—your past day to see the totality of how you lived that day. Humility is truth, and you want to beg in all honestly to see what you have done in the past day, but even beyond your exterior actions, you want to beg for the grace to see your interior intentions. We should never forget that man sees the surface, the mere exterior, but God can read our hearts and even our most hidden intentions.
4. Gratitude and Repentance
During the Examen, as pointed out above, most likely you will become aware of God’s incredible goodness and His many gifts to you in the past day; give thanks again to God for His blessings. However, in all sincerity and truth the Holy Spirit will also point out some of your thoughts, words and actions, and even some intentions, that were off the mark and not pleasing to God. Only God is perfect and the Bible teaches us that the just man falls seven times a day. Be aware of these moral failures and beg for forgiveness.
5. Resolution, Reconciliation, and Renewal
The last step points to the future. With a keen awareness of God’s infinite love for us and His infinite goodness in giving us so much, but also aware of our own human weakness, we propose to love God more every day starting right now, and to avoid any person, place, thing or circumstance that can lead us off the path of true discipleship of the Lord. In other words, the Daily Examen heightens our awareness and self-knowledge and this can serve as preventive medicine. If we know where the pitfall is in our path, we can sidestep it, jump over it, or walk a different path. The desert Fathers insist on this two-word axiom: know thyself.
Now the benefits of practicing the Daily Examen, which are incalculable. We will mention only three:
1. Constant Awareness of God and Prayer
If the Daily Examen is done faithfully, that is to say, on a daily basis, with hard work and good will, we become even more aware of God’s loving presence in our lives. God is not some distant, ethereal, mythical figure of the past! In our daily Examen, He becomes all the more real to us. In truth, we are never alone! God became man, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for our sins, and rise to eternal life. It is to this life that He calls us. If you like, He will become your Best Friend, always at your side. He wants you to share every moment of your existence with Him. By doing this, we will sin less. Saint Teresa of Avila asserts that one of the primary reasons for sin is becoming oblivious to the all abiding Presence of God.
2. Avoid Pitfalls
With a more acute awareness of the intentions and movements of our heart, which is like a garden that has both beautiful flowers and ugly weeds, we can avoid giving in to our bad tendencies. When the bad spirit is knocking at the door of our heart, we must close the door with lock and key. Many sins are committed due to weakness of the will, but also due to ignorance of who is knocking at our door. The Daily Examen heightens our awareness of the tactics of the enemy, as well as self-knowledge of our weaknesses, two key components for growth in holiness!
3. Compassion Toward Others
The Daily Examen is like shining a floodlight on our heart, our soul, and the inner workings of our conscience. We become aware of how good and loving God really is. However, with a penetrating awareness, we become cognizant of how weak we really are at times, and how prone to slip and fall into the mire of our own sinfulness. This keen self-knowledge can help us to be more kind, patient, and compassionate with our struggling brothers and sisters. If God is patient with us, how much more must we be patient with others! God allows what is evil to bring greater good from the evil – charity being the greatest good of all.
To conclude, determine now to make the daily Examen Prayer. It shouldn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes. If you miss a day, begin again, start back up the very next day. In doing so, you will sin less, your friendship with Christ will grow, and you will find more peace and joy in your life.