(c) Fr. James Martin (SJ)
The examination of conscience.
St. Ignatius Loyola used to say there was one prayer that his brother Jesuits should never miss praying daily (other than the Mass). Not the Rosary, or the Memorare, or the Anima Christi, as wonderful as those prayers are, but another one: the examination of conscience.
Why? Because the examination of conscience, a prayerful review of the day, helps us to see where God is at work in our lives. And Ignatius knew that when we stop noticing this we start to feel distant from God. Moreover, since God communicates with us in our daily lives, we need to pay attention to what God is saying.
Essentially, Ignatius’s examination of conscience (also known as the “examination of consciousness” or by its Spanish name, the “examen”) has five steps.
First, remind yourself you’re in God’s presence.
Second, call to mind anything for which you’re grateful, then savor it and give thanks.
Third, review the entire day, from start to finish, noticing places of encounter with God—whether in work, family life, friendships, nature, reading . . . or anything. Ask yourself: in this moment, did I accept God’s invitation?
Fourth, ask God for forgiveness for your sins.
And fifth, ask God for the grace needed for the next day.
Many of us are quite busy. So while we say we know God is with us day to day, we often don’t pause to notice. And not noticing is like neglecting to acknowledge a favor a friend has done for us. Noticing, as we do in the examination of conscience, helps us deepen our gratitude for God’s grace, which in turn strengthens our faith.