The Examen

By Mary Ann Hughes

Grace Notes

Some mornings, my day opens up like a rosebud — full of promise and beauty.

It offers endless possibilities, and I’m hopeful.

I’m reminded of the famous Norman Rockwell painting of a family going on vacation. Titled “Coming and Going,” it appeared on the cover of the Aug. 30, 1947, issue of “The Saturday Evening Post.” In the first panel, mom and the dad are in the front seat of the family sedan, ready to travel. The children and the family dog are wide-eyed and eager. Even grandma’s set to go.

Rockwell’s second panel shows the same family heading home, maybe after a week away. Everyone — but the dog — is wiped out.

That’s me at the end of the day. All my rose petals have fallen to the ground, and I’m spent.

Now that I’m 70 years old, some evenings I fall into bed with barely enough energy to say prayers for my sweet family.

A few years ago, I happened upon a lovely way to end my day. It was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, and it’s called the Daily Examen.

Here are the suggested steps:

Become aware of God’s presence, remembering that the Holy Spirit is always with us.

When I look back at my day, my mind often swirls with the cacophony and racket of it all. The examen demands clarity. I start to remember a morning walk with a friend on a pretty spring day; the pastel colors; the trill of the robins; the aromas. All so divine!

Next, we are encouraged to review our days with a sense of gratitude. The more I do this, the easier it gets. Tender moments bubble up from my memory bank, and it becomes easy to be thankful for them. They may be big things; they may be small; but they are unique to me.

During the examen, it’s important to pay attention to our emotions as we reflect on our day. I remember how I reacted to something; to someone. Was it in a good way? In a not so good way? If I could do it again, would I react differently?

It is here that we are encouraged to choose one part of our day and pray about it. We can use intercessory prayer, praise, repentance or gratitude. 

And finally, we look towards tomorrow. We ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. We pay attention to our emotions about the coming day. Do we expect difficulties? Joy? Adventures?

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus as if He were their dearest friend. I think that at the end of most days any energy we may have used for pretense has evaporated. During the examen, all we have left is our core.

This is the time to ask for God’s blessings on our tomorrow, knowing it’s promising to be another beautiful rose bud waiting to open.