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The Daily Examen


The Daily Examen, bringing the events and encounters of your day to prayer, is an ancient practice exhorted nigh universally among the Catholic spiritual writers I've read. Those who write about the Examen consider it an indispensable tool of growth in the spiritual life, and so all should strive to make it a part of their spiritual exercises. As such, it is one of the spiritual practices to be done by Servants of the Secret Fire.

The examen is sometimes also referred to as the Examination of Conscience, but I tend to avoid that term when talking about the Daily Examen, for the Examination of Conscience is a term I associate with preparation for Sacramental Reconciliation. One should make a thorough examination of one's conscience, especially with regard to one's sins before Reconciliation, and reflecting on one's sins is a part of the Daily Examen, but it is not limited to that, while the Examination of Conscience before Reconciliation would not include all that the Daily Examen includes. So I'll talk about the Daily Examen, or Daily Examination, but leave "Conscience" out of the name, though other authors might not.

The purpose of the Examen, as I'll be discussing, is to seek in one's day God's presence, voice, and will for you. It consists of various number of steps, depending on who's describing it, but I'm going with 5:
  1. Place yourself in God's presence
  2. Recall that from your day for which you are thankful and make an conscious act of Thanksgiving to God for them
  3. Read your day
    • Morning
    • Midday
    • Evening
  4. For those moments in the day you said "no" to God, make an act of Contrition
  5. Identify a resolution for the next day; as for God's grace on that resolution.
Placing yourself in God's Presence

This requires recollection on the individual's part. Calm the mind and be present to this moment. This means finding a time in the day to do the Examen when you know there will be some stillness from activity in your day. Make this the same time and place as often as possible.

I'm making my time just after I put the kids to bed. Putting them to bed doesn't happen unless activities before-hand have been finished or at least significantly paused, and nothing has to be immediately attended to. The Examen doesn't take a lot of time, so it's just a pause before my wife and I can settle in for some time as a couple, winding down before bed. But it's also a time when I'm not yet growing weary or ready for sleep, so I'm still active enough mentally to do the examen. My usual space for this is our dining room table, which is also where we do our family prayer; it has our images of Christ and Mary, the family patron saint icons, and a candle—it's a set, sacred space.

I pull up a one-minute interval timer from youtube on my smart phone. This helps me pull my mind back to focus for each step if it's started wandering, and also keeps the pace of the examen moving. If I get really focused on something important, I can always pause the timer or ignore the minute signal.


Once seated with the timer ready, I make the sign of the Cross and use the standard opening for the Liturgy of the Hours—God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me. Glory to the Father ...—because with years of doing the LoH, it works consistently to raise my mind and heart to God. Each individual should use whatever prayers or techniques help them find that recollection and focus. I use the rest of the full first minute of the timer to do some deep breaths and ask for God's grace on the examen—to see my life as He does—and the help of my guardian angel and patron saints before starting the process.

Thanksgiving

Starting with recalling things from your day to be thankful for, and doing so for a full minute, sets a good tone for the examen. Not only is thanksgiving a necessary type of prayer (Eucharist, after all, means "thanksgiving") but it can put even the hardest of days into perspective. Even on a day when nothing seems to have gone right, one can still be thankful for the Evangelion of Jesus Christ, one's life, the Church, one's Baptism and other Sacraments, one's family and friends, this very moment of prayer, etc. But don't be remiss in offering up thanksgiving for things like a good beer, or a moment of real laughter from a movie, or a stranger's smile. All is grace. After recalling these thankful things, make a concerted Act of Thanksgiving to God. Turn to him and say Thank You in whatever words are meaningful to you.

"Reading" your Day

This is the meat of the Examen, and as I'm practicing it I break down the day into morning, midday and evening with a full minute for each. This is recalling each hour of the day, or viewing each scene, or "reading" the day's events to find God in them—making sure to focus (but not exclusively) on encounters with persons. One description of the Examen called it searching through the kitchen drawer for that one utensil you know is there; in the examen you're searching through the messy "drawer" of your day because you KNOW God is there and if you keep at it you'll find Him.

I prefer the metaphor of reading, myself, because I relate this part of the examen to reading Scripture. Scripture is authored by God, for the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets." The creation, including your day, is also authored by God, and by virtue of my Baptism I share in Christ's prophetic office, and thus I find it legitimate to thus read my day according to the four senses of scripture:

  1. Literal
  2. Analogical
  3. Moral
  4. Anagogical

In the literal sense, I'm just seeing what happened in my day: these are the events as I remember them. In the analogical sense, when certain images and events remind me of scriptural stories, biblical typologies (especially Christological and Ecclesial types), sacraments, theological symbols, etc, I read those moments accordingly, make connections. I'm making, in essence, an exegetical reading of my day to see how God reveals himself through and in my life. Reading my day in the moral sense, I ask myself what was doing according to the will of God, what I ignored, and where I outright sinned. Or I look at the examples of others' behaviors I encountered to learn moral lessons, as well. Reading the day in the moral sense leads strongly to the next step in the examen. Finally, reading my day in the anagogical sense, I see what points toward both my eternal destiny, how I'm doing in relation to the last things (death, am I ready? judgement, have I forgiven others, asked forgiveness and accepted grace? heaven do I still hope? hell do I still fear?), and looking forward to God's will for me in the immediate future. Reading anagogically helps move toward the last step of the examen.

Contrition

Invariably there are moments of turning away from God's grace in the day: missing an opportunity of mercy, acting on a vice, not acting according to virtue, wasting a moment, turning inward on the self instead of outward to God and neighbor, etc. For these moments, make an act of Contrition and the rejection of all sin, specifically those you committed that day. Make this a moment of conversion, a "radical reorientation."

Resolution

Identifying areas in need of growth in your spiritual life, make a firm resolution about one or two from this day that you will make effort to grow in tomorrow. Fulfilling a duty missed, correcting a fault, practicing a virtue, adding a small spiritual practice, making a specific Corporal or Spiritual Work of Mercy.

Right now, mine are to make a Daily Examen! and practice more Patience, especially with my wife.

Then make a concrete act of prayer asking for God's grace on your Resolution (I tend to punctuate this with the "Come Holy Spirit" prayer).

Conclusion

I tend to end with a slow and deliberate "Our Father." ... and then do it again the next day.

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