By Mark Quaranta
As followers of Christ, we’ve been given a tremendous gift in the Communion of Saints: the men and women who have gone before us, who have run the race, who have won! The Church Triumphant! We look at them – St. John Paul II, St. Thérèse the Little Flower, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and countless more – and we see their heroic acts of holiness and virtue. What Saints!
Then, we look at ourselves and our actions, falling in the face of the same temptations as yesterday. Losing our patience, neglecting our prayer, living life under the cry of “My will be done!” We have a long way to go.
But, when we look at the Saints, what we often forget to see are the little things, the small actions each and every day. The tiny steps on the path to holiness. It’s the little things that prepare us for the big ones. Many saints, across time and place, made time for a little practice that takes literally minutes every day: an Examination of Conscience.
You might be familiar with an Examination of Conscience as a preparation for Confession; however, countless Saints have preached and promoted the daily practice of an Examination of Conscience. From St. Ignatius, who taught his followers the Examen, to St. Francis De Sales, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross, St. Josemaría Escrivá, and so many more.
Why is this kind of prayer so important? Well, there’s a long road between where we are today and where we want to go: Heaven. By making a daily examination, we give ourselves time to enter into ourselves, inviting the Lord to shed His light and understanding on our lives. With His help, we can start to see ourselves as God sees us and by His grace, we can respond to Him more quickly, more frequently, and more fervently.
Our hope is that by looking backward, at when we did or didn’t do God’s will, we can develop the skill of looking forward – recognizing His will and acting on it.
So, how do you pray the Examen? It’s simple.
Every evening, sit in silence with the Lord, remembering that the Holy Trinity dwells within you. Next, review your day. As St. Ignatius recommended, go hour by hour, contemplating your thoughts, words, and deeds. Don’t stop at just thinking about your day, but use it to converse with God. Turn to Him, expressing gratitude for His blessings, seeking mercy for our transgressions, and beseeching for the grace to lead a more virtuous life.
And that’s it.
If you’re interested in making the Examen a staple in your prayer life, I invite you to check out the Examination Journal – created to help Catholics make a nightly examen and prepare for Confession. The Examination Journal is a guide, an accountability tool, and a method for bringing your joys and struggles to the Lord in prayer. Learn more at ExaminationJournal.com.
Mark Quaranta attends St. Thomas More parish in Allentown, PA with his wife, Megan, and their four children. Mark is the creator of the Examination Journal. Learn more about the Examination Journal and order your first one at ExaminationJournal.com