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The Examen

Part of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is the five-step reflection, the Examen, designed to help people discern God’s activity during specific moments of their lives. Ignatius believed the Examen was so important that even if Jesuits neglected all other forms of prayer, they should never miss a day without spending a few minutes praying the Examen. 

Here is an example of the Examen: 

  1. Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
  2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
  3. Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
  4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
  5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with the “Our Father.”

Imaginative Prayer

Among other forms of prayer, the Spiritual Exercises presents an imaginative way of placing yourself within the biblical stories.

“We see the fishermen hauling in their nets on the Sea of Galilee, hear the smack of waves against the boat’s hull, feel the sunshine on our skins, smell seaweed and brine, taste the water we scoop up in our palm,” Santa Clara University literature professor Ron Hansen has explained. “With all five senses wholly engaged, we become part of the scene and can be as shocked and happy as Peter was when he recognized that it was the risen Christ who was roasting a fish on a charcoal fire on the shore and plunged into the sea to wade to him.”

All of these techniques are geared to nurturing the habits of spiritual discernment — among those who are ready to see God at work “in all things.”

The First Principle and Foundation

During the first week of the Exercises, Ignatius asks us to meditate on what really matters most in our life as the first step of putting our lives in order and gaining the freedom necessary to respond to God’s invitation to follow Jesus more closely.

The prayer that expresses this fundamental attitude is called the “First Principle and Foundation.”

The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all of these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.

~ St. Ignatius, from the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises