BY CATHERINE HEINHOLD | August 4, 2021
Editor’s Note: As we have all learned since March of 2020, the pandemic is unpredictable and and has thrown many of our lives into uncertainty. We offer this Examen not as an assumption that the pandemic has ended, but as an acknowledgement that, even in light of continued uncertainty and suffering, many of us are transitioning from our pandemic lives to something new—not necessarily what our lives looked like before, but something different from what we experienced for a year or more beginning in March of 2020.
The Examen is a traditional method of prayerful awareness that is a bedrock in Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education. It’s a short, easy way to reflect on your day and become more mindful about where you are experiencing grace or goodness and where there is room in your actions and life for growth. Especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change, taking time to reflect becomes essential.
What people don’t often realize is that the Examen is exceptionally flexible and adaptive. It can be used to review your day or it can be adapted to hone in on a specific issue or focus. In light of the current reality of a slow transition from the pandemic year, Catherine Heinhold, pastoral associate for Ignatian spirituality & prayer at Holy Trinity Church, a Jesuit parish in Washington, D.C., adapted the Examen to this unique situation.
Along with the entire globe, members of the Ignatian family—those associated with the Jesuit and broader Catholic network, animated and inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuit mission—have struggled to cope and find meaning in a year of isolation and grief. However, if we are given the time and space to reflect, we may find surprising moments of consolation interspersed with the hardships. Like St. Ignatius, who was hit by a cannonball at the battle of Pamplona 500 years ago, we might find ourselves limping a bit during this time of transition. We invite you to prayerfully reflect, using this adapted version of St. Ignatius’ Examen, on the graces of the past year and God’s invitations going forward.
In this Examen, you are invited to let God guide you. In doing this, regardless of the language used here, feel free to pray with God as Trinity or with any of the persons of the Trinity—God the Father/Mother, the person of Jesus, or the Holy Spirit—whatever is most natural for you.
While some may want to pray the entire Examen in one sitting, others might find it more helpful to break it up over a few days. You might pray with consolations in one sitting, desolations in the next, and so forth.
- As you begin your prayer, become aware of God’s presence—right now, in this moment, letting go of all that has come before and focusing on right now. God is with us, with you, right now. See God’s loving gaze upon you as you gaze upon God.
- Now, acknowledge that this moment is not isolated. This past year has been quite different from any year before it. Even if it was a difficult year, choose one thing that you are grateful for. Notice how this one thing for which you are grateful affects you, touches you. Express your thanks to God.
- Now invite God to be with you as you look back at the past year. Or you might imagine yourself sitting with Jesus and talking, or even viewing a video of your life over the last year. Give Jesus the remote or ask him to show you—
- This past year, when did you feel encouraged, uplifted, comforted?
- What people, experiences, and moments left you feeling hopeful, uplifted, and/or more connected to others and to God? Of these moments, did any of them lead to an increase of faith, hope, and love? (This is spiritual consolation.) Take a moment to notice these.
- Pause to acknowledge and give thanks to God for these moments.
- Now turn, with God’s help, to review your experience during the pandemic for the moments of desolation, or things that might still need healing.
- What people, experiences, disappointments, and other moments left you feeling less hopeful, more isolated, and less connected to others and to God? What needs healing? Take a few moments to look back.
- Did any of these moments lead to a decrease of your faith, hope, or love? (This is spiritual desolation.) Pause to acknowledge these moments.
- Of the moments you have reflected on—is there anything you need to ask for forgiveness for?
Ask God for that forgiveness and for guidance on whether or not to seek it from others.
Do you need healing from wounds you’ve received or losses you have borne?
Ask God for that healing and to show you any first steps toward greater wholeness.
- Now pause and be open with God about this present moment in time.
- Are you waiting for things to change, waiting to be able to make plans? Are you experiencing new opportunities to be with loved ones?
- What is life like right now, and how does it feel to you? Express this to God and notice God accept what you say.
- Looking ahead to the future, do you sense any invitation from God as you move forward? Is God inviting you to make a change—or to commit more fully to something—after this experience of pandemic?
Are there any habits you made during the pandemic that you want to continue?
- Pay special attention to the spiritual consolations and spiritual desolations, as these in particular will help you listen to God’s invitations.
- What hopes are in your heart for your life going forward? Ask God what God’s hopes are for you!
- Ask God for whatever help you might need to respond to God’s invitations.
- And when you are ready, close with your favorite prayer.
This prayer was originally published by Holy Trinity Catholic Church.
Catherine Heinhold serves as the pastoral associate for Ignatian spirituality & prayer at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., where her responsibilities include mentoring the parish’s young adult community. Her years as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in São Paulo, Brazil and in campus ministry at Georgetown University have fed her passion for Ignatian spirituality, restorative justice, and ministry with young adults.