The examen prayer has been mentioned before on my website (here) in the context of a book review, but I’d like to dig into this a little deeper today and share about how treating the examen as a sort of spiritual check-up can impact our lives for the better. The Ignatian examen finds its origins in The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Continue reading
Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. was ordained in 1979 as a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, a religious community which specializes in spiritual formation and retreats based on the exercises and writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Fr. Gallagher received his doctorate from Gregorian University in 1983, and in addition to having taught for a number of years, and written a number of books on the Ingatian Way, he is also a frequent guest on EWTN.
Some of Fr. Gallagher’s books include the following:
Introductory video of the podcast series:
But first, who is St. Ignatius of Loyola and what are his rules of discernment?
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order). His spiritual exercises reflect timeless principles of faith and testing, the seasons of dryness and flourishing common to all believers in their faith journeys. These exercises were formulated during a period where St. Ignatius was practising asceticism.
Over the past few months, I have been studying some of the writings of St. Ignatius (as summarized by various authors), who is also known for his examen, which I blogged about in January. There are two sets of rules, the first of which is covered in Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s audio series, on learning to discern the movements of the spirit in one’s life. The text of these rules can be found here, or as a PDF from EWTN.
Back to the Audio Series
The series itself runs for sixteen episodes, all roughly half an hour in length and available on YouTube, so, it’s about an eight-hour commitment of time and zero investment of dollars (don’t you just love free resources?), unless you’d like to purchase the companion book. And I might, because this is an awesome, awesome series.
Fr. Gallagher leads a dialogue in a Q&A format discussing each of the rules (each rule taking a little over one episode usually) and he doesn’t just give yes/no answers. He has a soft, pleasant to listen to voice that speaks with authority, reverence, and respect for the challenges and struggles of Christians in the scenarios he presents (both manufactured and stories of real people with changed names), firmly anchoring these 16th century rules in a 21st century context.
In one example, he compares looking ahead to the crests and troughs of one’s faith as an observant public transit user holding onto the ceiling rail and being aware of the sharp turn ahead. Little details like these make these fourteen ways of recognizing the movements of the spirit come alive.
The rules themselves cover both how the Enemy is at work to seduce, to distract, to enslave, and the Holy Spirit counters to disturb, to convict, to refreshen (to name a few methods of each). In these rules, St. Ingatius of Loyola counsels us to be alert to the seasons and times when God seems close, and those periods of withdrawal, or even the long “dark nights of the soul” as St. John of the Cross would say, that come to saints.
The LOUD, consumerist voice of this present age tells me to buy “new, consume, discard, and repeat and pay no heed to the voices of the past. They’re unapproachable, difficult to understand, and irrelevant besides being outdated”.
But there’s a quiet Voice that whispers, “Come and see what has been set before you, the wisdom of these saints. Come, taste and see”. For those readers wishing to listen to that second voice, perhaps you may wish to give this series a try for yourselves. It has enriched my life, and I believe it will do the same for yours.
For additional reading on this topic, see Fr. Gallagher’s book, The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living.
7/16/19: Edited to correct acronym for EWTN (Global Catholic Television Network), and a couple of other typos I noticed. Sorry about that!
Title: Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day
Author: Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
Published: 2014 by Loyola Press
Length: 123 pages
Amazon Categories: Meditations
Source: Overdrive (free); Kindle price: $8.79
Every time I talk about Mark Thibodeaux’s book, I always get the title wrong but when I explain, I think you’ll understand why. While it’s true that the author reimagines the original examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola in a fresh way, after immersing in this book and its devotional exercises for prayer and meditation, I think you will find that it reignites your faith and prayer life. So, I wish on some level that the title was Reigniting the Ignatian Examen, because I think that the contents of this simple prayer has the potential to stir those coals in our hearts and reawaken the embers of our prayer lives. It certainly is rekindling mine.
The book isn’t terribly long for the price and that may be my biggest negative critique. I like a chunky book when I’m paying more than $2.99 for an ebook. But where Thibodeaux could have tripled the length of the book and bogged it down in unnecessarily long treatises on prayer and meditation, or on the background of St. Ignatius and the original examen, he chose to take a different approach.
The first few chapters talk about how he approaches the examen and on creating your own opening and closing ritual. The remainder of the book is thirty-four days of meditations/prayer with different subjects, building upon what you’ve previously gone over. Ideally, one for every day of the month, and a few extras in case one or two just didn’t click for you.
There is also an appendix where Thibodeaux talks about some of the terms he uses (like praydreaming and prayimagining), which helped me immensely as I began my own journey through the examen. For the sake of full disclosure, I am still working my way through the book and God willing, will continue to be doing the meditations for some time to come. Since the majority of the book is just the individual guided prayers/reflections, you’re better off reading them at the pace prescribed, rather than treating the book as something to be rushed through and checked off a list.
The author recommends beginning once a day and advancing to twice a day (at lunch, and at dinner) and when you reflect upon your day, you can reflect upon how your morning went, and how you expect the afternoon to go, and then at the evening examen, review how it actually went, and how you expect tomorrow morning to go. This idea of a daily review, or even a twice-daily review, can really be an excellent way of keeping God at the center of our focus.
The examen will prompt questions such as…
Are we really living each moment to please God? Where are we acting in the faith, hope and charity that all Christians should be? In what areas are we floundering? What can we learn about our mistakes and resolve to do differently the next time? What do we think that God is trying to tell us about this area in our lives (or the areas we are guided to by the reflections)?
If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in exploring, please check out Mark E. Thibodeaux’s book, and leave a comment below and let me know what you think.