Try to dedicate at least 10 minutes to the following prayer every night. This prayer method incorporates the five points recommended by Saint Ignatius for the General Examen.
Daily Litany of Gratitude: My precious Lord, as this day comes to a close, I take this moment to turn to You. Help me, in this moment of quiet, to examine my day in gratitude. May I be attentive to the powerful ways that You have been at work in my life this day as well as the most subtle of ways. May I see all the ways that You have blessed me in abundance this day.
Now call to mind the many blessings of the day and make a quick list of all the ways God has blessed you—for example, life, health, friendship, family, an activity, a particular encounter with someone, a kind word given or received, a fruitful time of prayer, an insight received, and any/every way that God has blessed you.
Lord, You have blessed me in an abundance of ways. Your gifts are continually bestowed upon me. Help me to daily see these blessings and to be filled with gratitude for them. I thank You this day not only for the great and powerful ways in which You have blessed me but also for every small gift of Your grace this day.
Petitions and Review of Day: Lord, I also know that You have much to say to me this day. Please open my mind and heart right now to whatever it is that You want to say. Help me to see all that keeps me from loving You and others and help me to see the ways You are at work in my life. As I see, help me to listen and respond to this gift of Your grace.
Review your day considering your thoughts, words and actions. What line of thinking, words and actions led to consolations of joy, peace, refreshment, contentment, etc.? These you consciously accept. Also, what thoughts, words and deeds led to desolation, meaning, what thoughts left you agitated, angry, disturbed, confused, uncertain, etc.? These are most likely to be rejected.
Review your journal (if you use one) to consider the various ways God has been speaking to you over the past weeks. Write down any insights into that journal at this time.
Lord, I thank You for helping me to see the ways that You have been at work in my life this day. Thank You for the joys, the consolations and the countless blessings You have bestowed upon me. I pray that I will continually be aware of Your workings in my life so that I can hear Your voice more clearly and follow Your will with greater abandonment and love.
Petition for Forgiveness: I also pray that You bestow upon me Your mercy for my sins. Please give to me the grace of humility so that I can admit all my sins without reserve. I pray that every sin will be forgiven, and I open myself to Your grace so that Your merciful Heart will create me anew. Your presence in my life brings great joy; my sin leads to sorrow and despair.
For every sin that I have committed this day, I am sorry and I beg for Your forgiveness, my merciful Lord.
Prayer of Renewal and Resolution:
Make your personal resolutions here for tomorrow based on what God has spoken to you in these reflections. Then conclude with this prayer:
My dear Lord, I resolve to serve You more faithfully. Help me to put into practice all You have revealed. I choose You as my Lord. I choose You as my guide and pray for Your abundant blessings tomorrow.
May this night be restful in You. May it be a night of renewal. Speak to me, Lord, as I sleep. Guard me and protect me the whole night through. My guardian angel, Saint Joseph, my Blessed Mother, intercede for me now and always.
How to Make the Daily General Examen
This lesson will teach you how to use the five points of Saint Ignatius’ General Examen during the “Evening Prayer with General Examen.” The General Examen is a simple yet profoundly important way of incorporating the various lessons and practices taught by Saint Ignatius into your daily routine. The daily examen will help you to establish a habit of prayer and a habit of prayer is good.
Let’s begin with some analogies to illustrate the importance of this daily examen. First, say you make a living by being a commercial fisherman. How do you improve your success each day when you go out fishing? First, you look at the weather forecast, you study the fishing report of the previous day, you check the water temperature, consider the time of year, etc. Also, while out fishing you are constantly viewing the radar and monitoring the radio for news of active fishing at other nearby locations. In other words, the best way to become a good and successful fisherman is to do much more than fish. You must also prepare, listen, evaluate, study, measure, etc. so you can make the best plan each day to catch the most fish possible.
Or imagine you are a gymnast who competes at a very high level, say in preparation for the Olympics. You clearly would have many natural talents that got you to that point. But if you simply rely upon your natural talents alone, you will never go very far in the Olympics. Instead, you practice, practice, practice. You record film of your moves and then study it carefully, over and over, in slow motion, etc. You evaluate and make adjustments to how you land, jump, twist, etc. You look at the finest details of your moves and try to adjust them to perfection. A gymnast seeking to go far in the Olympics would never simply watch the video and say, “looks good to me! No one will even notice my small missteps.” No, they will work and work and work at perfecting every motion and move.
So it must be with the spiritual life. We must never simply say, “Well, things are just fine.” This leads to a life of lukewarm spiritual activity: Lukewarm faith, hope and charity. The result is a lukewarm relationship with God. And a lukewarm relationship with God is an open door to the evil one through which he is invited to mislead you in the numerous ways.
The daily examen is a way of “watching the film” or “getting the fishing report” for your spiritual life. It’s a way of collecting all available data for spiritual growth in YOUR life using the means and methods discovered and taught by Saint Ignatius.
Love of God and spiritual growth is in the details. The details are essential if we want to grow in perfection and deep union with God. The details are essential if we want to perfect our virtues and, especially, our love of God and neighbor. Thus, the Ignatius daily examen is one excellent way to tune into the details that are necessary to grow in holiness.
Overview: The “Daily General Examen” is a five point method of praying that examines the action of God in your daily life. It is also a way of searching for ways you have failed each day and have allowed the evil one to influence you. It seeks to examine your thoughts, words and actions using, especially, the Ignatian lessons on the discernment of spirits.
The daily examen can be used any time of day, but is idea to use in the evening. The simple goal is to review your day carefully and then end with resolutions for the coming day. Saint Ignatius offers five brief steps in making this examen which will be expounded upon below.
Gratitude: The first step is gratitude. When you begin your examen, start by calling to mind the blessings that God has given you that day. To some, this could seem like an unimportant activity. But Ignatius puts it first for a reason. Evaluating your daily life should not only be a matter of looking at your sins. Rather, it is essential that you primarily look at how God is at work in our life. To start, the blessings you receive will become an essential “road map” so to speak for seeking out and following the will of God in your daily life. By seeing the blessings you have been given, you will more easily be able to enter into those blessings so that they flourish and grow. What an essential way to grow in holiness this is!
Therefore, as you begin your daily examen, start by quietly reviewing your day and try to see the many blessings you have received. In this step there is no need to think about them in great detail, rather, strive to make a quick list in your mind to set the context for the rest of the examen. The blessing of health, of a blessed interaction with someone, of a good prayer time, of a kind word, of an encouraging idea or thought, of a loving relationship, of the completion of a project, etc. If you have the spiritual eyes to see clearly, you will immediately be aware of many blessings from God that, for the most part, are taken for granted. Again, the goal of this step is simply to set a sort of “context” for the rest of the examen. A context of general gratitude to God for the ways He is at work in your life.
Petition: The second step may also be easily discarded as less important than it is. It’s a simple prayer of petition to God, asking Him to show you what He wants you to see within your day. It’s easy to want to jump right into step three without saying a prayer of petition. Don’t do that. After you call to mind the blessings of your day, make a simple and personal prayer of petition to God.
The “petition” should be simple and should have two goals to it. First, you ask the Lord to give you understanding. Specifically, you ask that the Lord help you to know and understand whatever He wants you to communicate to you this day. This is an open ended petition. God knows what He wants to communicate to you, so if you humbly come to Him and ask for this grace, then it’s a way of opening your heart and mind to whatever it is He wants to speak to you. Saint Ignatius specifically mentions we should pray to know our sins. What sin does God want to reveal to you? What obstacle is there in your relationship with Him? Pray that God shows you. Secondly, you ask for courage to act on this insight. It matters very little if you only receive understanding of the Lord’s will, but it matters a lot if you then act on this understanding. Knowledge of God’s will is always given for the purpose of becoming freed of all that hinders your relationship with God and others. Additionally, doing so within the context of the many blessings you have received will help you to choose those good blessings over your sins and receive the blessings in even greater abundance.
Your prayer of petition could be something as simple as this: “Lord, I know that You have much to say to me this day. Please open my mind and heart to whatever it is that You want to say. Help me to see all that keeps me from loving You and others and help me to see the ways You are at work in my life. As I see, help me to listen and respond to this gift of your grace.”
That’s it! Very simple. But making a simple act of petition will do wonders as you move into the next steps of the daily examen.
Review of Day: The review of your day may be the longest step in this daily examen. It will consist of looking at your thoughts, words and actions of the day. As you examine them, you will especially look at the various interior experiences of consolation and desolation you experienced within them. In thoughts, what line of thinking led to consolations of joy, peace, refreshment, contentment, etc.? These you consciously accept. Also, what thoughts led to desolation, meaning, what thoughts left you agitated, angry, disturbed, confused, uncertain, etc.? These are most likely to be rejected.
The same examination is done in regard to your words and actions throughout the day. Where was God at work in them (consolation) and where was the evil one at work (desolation)? Over time, it will become easier to discern the action of God in your life and also to see the temptations and deceptions of the evil one. Looking at your day in an objective way, looking for these various movements within your soul, will allow you to continually fine tune your spiritual life by choosing that which is from God and rejecting that which is from the evil one.
Forgiveness: In this step you make a petition to God just as you did in step two. The petition is for forgiveness. It’s important to point out that, just as in step two, it’s easy to brush this step off or to do so without much intentionality. Therefore, it is very useful to acknowledge the importance of this step. In step two you petitioned God to know and understand all that He wants to communicate to you. In step three you reviewed your day and were attentive to the ways in which you were moved both by God and by sin. In this step, you make a humble petition to God to forgive you for your failings.
Don’t take this step lightly. There is great power in humbly identifying your specific sins of the day and asking God to forgive you for those specific sins. There is great spiritual power in uttering the words, “This action was a sin, please forgive me, Lord.” Additionally, making a firm resolution to overcome these sins are also of great power.
Renewal: One of the graces born of the previous four steps is the preparedness to make specific and concrete resolutions for tomorrow. This step is at the heart of the Ignatian exercises. Yes, it’s important to understand your sin, to ask for forgiveness and to receive His mercy. But it’s also just as important to then resolve to grow and change. And it’s important to do so with specific spiritual and moral goals in mind. Therefore, once you have completed the previous four steps, you should be in a good position to then make specific decisions on how you are to change, grow, amend, etc. Do that in this step in the most practical and simple way you can. Don’t go overboard, be reasonable, be thoughtful, but do take action and do take concrete steps. If you do this each day, little by little you will continue down the glorious path our Lord has in mind for you.
Lastly, in this step it is also important to acknowledge the many ways that God has been active in your life. Recall the many blessings and also commit yourself to pursue more fervently the road of virtue to which those blessings call you. Renewal is not only about choosing to overcome sin, it is also about resolving to continue walking down the path of virtue and grace that has bestowed upon you countless blessings.