I recently began listening to an audiobook by Mark Twain called “Innocents Abroad.” It’s a humorous travel log he wrote about being on board a chartered vessel through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers in 1867. The book has a combination of light-hearted and serious descriptions of people, places, and events.
In my years as a priest, I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to travel on several pilgrimages. This book covers many of the places I have visited. What struck me about the book were some of the observations that Mark Twain made about his journey that certainly apply to us today.
One is that people can experience the same situation very differently. I think all of us can agree to this. But Mark Twain particularly pokes fun when describing individuals who rely so much on their travel guidebooks that it deters their own personal impressions to take in and appreciate their surroundings.
This is not unlike how so many people today are fixated on their phones, so much so that they miss out on everything going on around them. The other is that the value of travel does not become clear until we return home, sifting out the bad experiences and stressing the good ones.
When I look back on my own experiences, I had an itinerary of the places we would go, but no book or guide could describe being in the Holy Land on the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus prayed and preached and performed miracles. One can be blown away by the beauty of the churches in Rome, but to be in the presence of Pope John Paul II was not only unexpected, but indescribable.
I’m still processing my most recent trip in the footsteps of St. Paul. We visited the cities where he established the Churches and he wrote his letters to in the New Testament. All these experiences continue to enhance my appreciation and love of the Scriptures, the Church, and my faith.
The most meaningful times of our life do not just come from visiting a particular site, or seeing a particular person, or doing a particular thing. It comes from how these events impact our lives and how God is trying to speak to us in this moment. God blesses us with many gifts and challenges every day, but we need to attentively focus on what is happening in our life, how it impacts our life and what is God trying to reveal to us. The only way we can do that is to take time daily and reflect and pray about what we have experienced.
A simple examen of our day helps us look at life – our life – the good and the bad. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. A simple examen of our day requires us to look at the ordinary parts of our day and focus on our feelings and moods and treat every moment for what it really is: a blessed event.
The basic format for a daily examen is to thank God for His presence and His love. Review the day and face your shortcomings and recognize your blessings. Then ask God for the grace to look forward to the day to come.
Although a trip to Europe and the Holy Land has the potential for a very meaningful and spiritual experience, so does a walk around the block. All we need is to be attentive to our daily experiences, examen the effect it has on our lives, and reflect on that to which God is trying to open our eyes and hearts.
By Father Stanley Moczydlowski, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall.