What is the Examen?

 
Every full school day at Brophy, we pray what is called The Examen. The daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience. The method we use at Brophy is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily—at noon and at the end of the day. It’s a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.

What are the Spiritual Exercises?

The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully-designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”

Ignatius wrote that the Exercises “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The book of Spiritual Exercises is a handbook to be used by the director, not by the person making the retreat.

List of 3 items.

  • What is the structure of the Exercises?

    Ignatius organized the Exercises into four “weeks.” These are not seven-day weeks, but stages on a journey to spiritual freedom and wholehearted commitment to the service of God.

    First week. The first week of the Exercises is a time of reflection on our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us. We see that our response to God’s love has been hindered by patterns of sin. We face these sins knowing that God wants to free us of everything that gets in the way of our loving response to him. The first week ends with a meditation on Christ’s call to follow him.

    Second week. The meditations and prayers of the second week teach us how to follow Christ as his disciples. We reflect on Scripture passages: Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, his raising Lazarus from the dead. We are brought to decisions to change our lives to do Christ’s work in the world and to love him more intimately.

    Third week. We meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, passion, and death. We see his suffering and the gift of the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of God’s love.

    Fourth week. We meditate on Jesus’ resurrection and his apparitions to his disciples. We walk with the risen Christ and set out to love and serve him in concrete ways in our lives in the world.
  • How is prayer approached in the Exercises?

    The two primary forms of praying taught in the Exercises are meditation and contemplation. In meditation, we use our minds. We ponder the basic principles that guide our life. We pray over words, images, and ideas.

    Contemplation is more about feeling than thinking. Contemplation often stirs the emotions and enkindles deep desires. In contemplation, we rely on our imaginations to place ourselves in a setting from the Gospels or in a scene proposed by Ignatius. We pray with Scripture. We do not study it.

    The discernment of spirits underlies the Exercises. We notice the interior movements of our hearts, and discern where they are leading us. A regular practice of discernment helps us make good decisions.

    All the characteristic themes of Ignatian spirituality are grounded in the Exercises. These include a sense of collaboration with God’s action in the world, spiritual discernment in decision making, generosity of response to God’s invitation, fraternity and companionship in service, and a disposition to find God in all things. Spiritual integration is a prominent theme of the Exercises: integration of contemplation and action, prayer and service, and emotions and reason.
  • What would make spirituality Ignatian?

    Ignatian spirituality is one of the most influential and pervasive spiritual outlooks of our age. Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the experiences of Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556), a Basque aristocrat whose conversion to a fervent Christian faith began while he was recovering from war wounds. Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits, gained many insights into the spiritual life in the course of a decades-long spiritual journey during which he became expert at helping others deepen their relationship with God. Its basis in personal experience makes Ignatian spirituality an intensely practical spirituality, well suited to laymen and laywomen living active lives in the world.

    “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” This line from a poem by the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins captures a central theme of Ignatian spirituality: its insistence that God is at work everywhere—in work, relationships, culture, the arts, the intellectual life, creation itself. As Ignatius put it, all the things in the world are presented to us “so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” Ignatian spirituality places great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life. It sees God as an active God, always at work, inviting us to an ever-deeper walk.

    An Ignatian spiritual life focuses on God at work now. It fosters an active attentiveness to God joined with a prompt responsiveness to God. God calls; we respond. This call-response rhythm of the inner life makes discernment and decision making especially important. Ignatius’s rules for discernment and his astute approach to decision making are well-regarded for their psychological and spiritual wisdom.

    Ignatius Loyola’s conversion occurred as he became able to interpret the spiritual meaning of his emotional life. The spirituality he developed places great emphasis on the affective life: the use of imagination in prayer, discernment and interpretation of feelings, cultivation of great desires, and generous service. Ignatian spiritual renewal focuses more on the heart than the intellect. It holds that our choices and decisions are often beyond the merely rational or reasonable. Its goal is an eager, generous, wholehearted offer of oneself to God and to his work.

    Ignatian spirituality emphasizes interior freedom. To choose rightly, we should strive to be free of personal preferences, superfluous attachments, and preformed opinions. Ignatius counseled radical detachment: “We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.” Our one goal is the freedom to make a wholehearted choice to follow God.

    The Ignatian mind-set is strongly inclined to reflection and self-scrutiny. The distinctive Ignatian prayer is the Daily Examen, a review of the day’s activities with an eye toward detecting and responding to the presence of God. Three challenging, reflective questions lie at the heart of the Spiritual Exercises, the book Ignatius wrote, to help others deepen their spiritual lives: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?”

    Ignatian spirituality is adaptable. It is an outlook, not a program; a set of attitudes and insights, not rules or a scheme. Ignatius’s first advice to spiritual directors was to adapt the Spiritual Exercises to the needs of the person entering the retreat. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a profound humanism. It respects people’s lived experience and honors the vast diversity of God’s work in the world. The Latin phrase cura personalis is often heard in Ignatian circles. It means “care of the person”—attention to people’s individual needs and respect for their unique circumstances and concerns.

    Ignatian spirituality places great value on collaboration and teamwork. Ignatian spirituality sees the link between God and man as a relationship—a bond of friendship that develops over time as a human relationship does. Collaboration is built into the very structure of the Spiritual Exercises; they are almost always guided by a spiritual director who helps the retreatant interpret the spiritual content of the retreat experience. Similarly, mission and service in the Ignatian mode is seen not as an individualistic enterprise, but as work done in collaboration with Christ and others.

    Those formed by Ignatian spirituality are often called “contemplatives in action.” They are reflective people with a rich inner life who are deeply engaged in God’s work in the world. They unite themselves with God by joining God’s active labor to save and heal the world. It’s an active spiritual attitude—a way for everyone to seek and find God in their workplaces, homes, families, and communities.

    The early Jesuits often described their work as simply “helping souls.” The great Jesuit leader Pedro Arrupe updated this idea in the twentieth century by calling those formed in Ignatian spirituality “men and women for others.” Both phrases express a deep commitment to social justice and a radical giving of oneself to others. The heart of this service is the radical generosity that Ignatius asked for in his most famous prayer. (See Ignatian Prayers.)