Category Archives: Ignatian Spirituality

The Daily Examen

The Daily Examen is a spiritual exercise on the events of the day looking to be aware of God’s presence and discern His will for us. Various recommendations exist on utilizing this gift of prayer but I think it’s necessary to do the Examen twice a day: at midday and then at the end of the day. The whole point of the Examen is to ask the three questions Saint Ignatius Loyola asked: What have I done, what am I doing and what will I do for Christ. This venerable spiritual practice of the Church helps us to see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola gave us a five-step Daily Examen:

1. Be aware of God’s presence;

2. Spend a moment looking over your day with gratitude for this day’s gifts;

3. Ask God to send you His Holy Spirit to help you look at your actions, attitudes, motives with honesty and patience;

4. Review your day in a particular way;

5. Have heart-to-heart talk with Jesus.

Looking at these prayer points:

More than 400 years ago Saint Ignatius Loyola encouraged his disciples to cultivate a conscious awareness of the Divine Majesty’s work in our lives. He wanted us to live vigorously in the power of the Blessed Trinity. Loyola called this awareness is what the Daily Examen.

1. Become aware of God’s presence. So often we forget that God is really present in the daily work we engage in. Here you are asked to look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you –a blur, a muddle. Ask God to for the grace of clarity and understanding. Wherever you are, you are a creature in the midst of the beauty of creation. As you quiet yourself, become aware that God is present within you, in the creation that surrounds you, in your body, in those around you. Ask the Holy Spirit to let you look on all you see with love.

2. Be concrete and let the important moments of the day come to mind! In a general way give a moment of reflection on what happened to you. Some people will recall the smell of morning coffee, the laugh of a friend, the fragrance of a flower, or the feelings brought forth by a kind word, or what you’ve learned. Consider what you received and what you gave.

3. Give thanks to God for favors received. This is an opportunity to appreciate the permanent gifts you have that allow your participation in this day; conversely recall your particular strengths in times of difficulty. God the Father gives you these to draw you into the fullness of His life. As you move through the details of your day, give thanks to God for His presence in matters large and small. “When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13) The Holy Spirit inspires you with the gift of growing freedom in your life. Here the freedom the Holy Spirit offers to us allows us to look upon yourself without condemnation and without complacency and thus offering us the opportunity to change, to grow. Ask that you will learn and grow as you reflect, thus deepening your knowledge of self and your relationship with God.

4. Recall the events of your day; explore the specific context of your actions. Search for the internal movements of your heart and your interaction with what was before you. Ask the Lord to show you the moments of grace and sin based on what you experienced since the last time you did the Examen. In what ways did you accept the Spirit’s gifts and in what ways did you resist the Holy Spirit? As the Psalmist says, we have a divided heart. The Examen shows us the areas of this division –the wavering of the heart between helping and disregarding, scoffing and encouraging, listening and ignoring, rebuking and forgiving, speaking and silence, neglecting and thanking. Remember, the Examen is not a time to dwell on your sin and other shortcomings; rather, it is a loving look with the Lord at how you have responded to God’s gifts. The idea is to notice where you acted freely, that is, cooperated with grace–the picking a particular course of action from the possibilities you saw. See where you were swept along without freedom. What reactions helped or hindered you? See where Christ entered your decisions and where you might have paused to receive His influence. “Test yourselves,” Sain Paul urges, “to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you yourselves do not realize that Christ Jesus is in you.” (2 Cor.) Thus, you will come to know that Jesus Christ is with you. Christ continually invites you to love Him and your neighbor as yourself; He will strengthen you to do this.

5. Seek God’s guidance. Ask Him for help and understanding. Pray for hope. Speak with Jesus about your day, about your concerns. Share your thoughts on your actions, attitudes, feelings and interactions. You may feel the need to seek forgiveness, to ask for direction, to share a concern, to express gratitude, etc. Express sorrow for sin; give thanks for grace, the enlightening presence of God, and especially praise God for the times you responded in ways that allowed you to better see God’s life. Resolve with Jesus to move forward in grace-filled action.

You might like to finish your time with the Lord’s Prayer and the Glory be.

First Principle and Foundation: a fundamental spiritual teaching of Loyola

The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.

As a result, we appreciate and use all of these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.

But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation.

We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.

For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Spiritual Exercises (a new trans.)

The Suscipe

The Suscipe prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is a regular part of my spiritual regimen –and it has been so for many years– because it reminds me of the total abandonment to God’s will that I want to live. I offer the prayer here in English and Latin for your convenience. It is a perfect part of morning prayer.

Receive, O Lord, all my liberty. Take my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or possess Thou hast bestowed upon me; I give it all back to Thee and surrender it wholly to be governed by Thy Will. Give me love for Thee alone along with Thy grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem. Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem. Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum. Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones, et dives sum satis, hec aliud quidquam ultra posco.

(Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises)

Examination of Conscience: Praying Backwards through Your Day

The key to living the spiritual life is the awareness we have of God’s (the Blessed Trinity’s) action in our lives. The daily reckoning of what, how, when, and perhaps why God acts in such way for, with and through us is essential for us because the journey of faith is not static but dynamic. Saint Ignatius of Loyola believed that we advance in the spiritual life by asking for the grace of insight into our lived experience and to interpret that experience light of the Incarnation. Father Hamm provides me (us) with a good primer on the Examen. His emphasis is on feelings but I think Hamm stands in good company especially when you read that Saint Augustine speak of zeroing-in on one’s feelings because God is right there.

About 20 years ago, at breakfast and during the few hours that followed, I had a small revelation. This happened while I was living in a small community of five Jesuits, all graduate students in New Haven, Connecticut. I was alone in the kitchen, with my cereal and the New York Times, when another Jesuit came in and said: “I had the weirdest dream just before I woke up. It was a liturgical dream. The lector had just read the first reading and proceeded to announce, ‘The responsorial refrain today is, If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ Whereupon the entire congregation soberly repeated, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.'” We both thought this enormously funny. At first, I wasn’t sure just why this was so humorous. After all, almost everyone would assent to the courageous truth of the maxim, “If at first…” It has to be a cross-cultural truism (“Keep on truckin’!”). Why, then, would these words sound so incongruous in a liturgy?*A little later in the day, I stumbled onto a clue. Another, similar phrase popped into my mind: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95). It struck me that that sentence has exactly the same rhythm and the same syntax as: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Both begin with an if clause and end in an imperative. Both have seven beats. Maybe that was one of the unconscious sources of the humor.

The try-try-again statement sounds like the harden-not-your-hearts refrain, yet what a contrast! The latter is clearly biblical, a paraphrase of a verse from a psalm, one frequently used as a responsorial refrain at the Eucharist. The former, you know instinctively, is probably not in the Bible, not even in Proverbs. It is true enough, as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. There is nothing of faith in it, no sense of God. The sentiment of the line from Psalm 95, however, expresses a conviction central to Hebrew and Christian faith, that we live a life in dialogue with God. The contrast between those two seven-beat lines has, ever since, been for me a paradigm illustrating that truth.

Yet how do we hear the voice of God? Our Christian tradition has at least four answers to that question. First, along with the faithful of most religions, we perceive the divine in what God has made, creation itself (that insight sits at the heart of Christian moral thinking). Second, we hear God’s voice in the Scriptures, which we even call “the word of God.” Third, we hear God in the authoritative teaching of the church, the living tradition of our believing community. Finally, we hear God by attending to our experience, and interpreting it in the light of all those other ways of hearing the divine voice-the structures of creation, the Bible, the living tradition of the community.

The phrase, “If today you hear his voice,” implies that the divine voice must somehow be accessible in our daily experience, for we are creatures who live one day at a time. If God wants to communicate with us, it has to happen in the course of a 24-hour day, for we live in no other time. And how do we go about this kind of listening? Long tradition has provided a helpful tool, which we call the “examination of consciousness” today. “Rummaging for God” is an expression that suggests going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, looking for something that you are sure must be in there somewhere. I think that image catches some of the feel of what is classically known in church language as the prayer of “examen.”

Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius.jpg

The examen, or examination, of conscience is an ancient practice in the church. In fact, even before Christianity, the Pythagoreans and the Stoics promoted a version of the practice. It is what most of us Catholics were taught to do to prepare for confession. In that form, the examen was a matter of examining one’s life in terms of the Ten Commandments to see how daily behavior stacked up against those divine criteria. St. Ignatius includes it as one of the exercises in his manual The Spiritual Exercises.

It is still a salutary thing to do but wears thin as a lifelong, daily practice. It is hard to motivate yourself to keep searching your experience for how you sinned. In recent decades, spiritual writers have worked with the implication that conscience in Romance languages like French (conscience) and Spanish (conciencia) means more than our English word conscience, in the sense of moral awareness and judgment; it also means “consciousness.”

Now prayer that deals with the full contents of your consciousness lets you cast your net much more broadly than prayer that limits itself to the contents of conscience, or moral awareness. A number of people-most famously, George Aschenbrenner, SJ, in an article in Review for Religious (1971)-have developed this idea in profoundly practical ways. Recently, the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis published a fascinating reflection by Joseph Tetlow, SJ, called The Most Postmodern Prayer: American Jesuit Identity and the Examen of Conscience, 1920-1990.

What I am proposing here is a way of doing the examen that works for me. It puts a special emphasis on feelings, for reasons that I hope will become apparent. First, I describe the format. Second, I invite you to spend a few minutes actually doing it. Third, I describe some of the consequences that I have discovered to flow from this kind of prayer.

A Method: Five Steps

1. Pray for light. Since we are not simply daydreaming or reminiscing but rather looking for some sense of how the Spirit of God is leading us, it only makes sense to pray for some illumination. The goal is not simply memory but graced understanding. That’s a gift from God devoutly to be begged. “Lord, help me understand this blooming, buzzing confusion.”

2. Review the day in thanksgiving. Note how different this is from looking immediately for your sins. Nobody likes to poke around in the memory bank to uncover smallness, weakness, lack of generosity. But everybody likes beautiful gifts, and that is precisely what the past 24 hours contain-gifts of existence, work, relationships, food, challenges. Gratitude is the foundation of our whole relationship with God. So use whatever cues help you to walk through the day from the moment of awakening-even the dreams you recall upon awakening. Walk through the past 24 hours, from hour to hour, from place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking the Lord for every gift you encounter.

3. Review the feelings that surface in the replay of the day. Our feelings, positive and negative, the painful and the pleasing, are clear signals of where the action was during the day. Simply pay attention to any and all of those feelings as they surface, the whole range: delight, boredom, fear, anticipation, resentment, anger, peace, contentment, impatience, desire, hope, regret, shame, uncertainty, compassion, disgust, gratitude, pride, rage, doubt, confidence, admiration, shyness-whatever was there. Some of us may be hesitant to focus on feelings in this over-psychologized age, but I believe that these feelings are the liveliest index to what is happening in our lives. This leads us to the fourth moment:

4. Choose one of those feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it. That is, choose the remembered feeling that most caught your attention. The feeling is a sign that something important was going on. Now simply express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces as you attend to the source of the feeling-praise, petition, contrition, cry for help or healing, whatever.

5. Look toward tomorrow. Using your appointment calendar if that helps, face your immediate future. What feelings surface as you look at the tasks, meetings, and appointments that face you? Fear? Delighted anticipation? Self-doubt? Temptation to procrastinate? Zestful planning? Regret? Weakness? Whatever it is, turn it into prayer-for help, for healing, whatever comes spontaneously. To round off the examen, say the Lord’s Prayer.*A mnemonic for recalling the five points: LT3F (light, thanks, feelings, focus, future).

Do It

Take a few minutes to pray through the past 24 hours, and toward the next 24 hours, with that five-point format.


Here are some of the consequences flowing from this kind of prayer:

1. There is always something to pray about. For a person who does this kind of prayer at least once a day, there is never the question: What should I talk to God about? Until you die, you always have a past 24 hours, and you always have some feelings about what’s next.

2. The gratitude moment is worthwhile in itself. “Dedicate yourselves to gratitude,” Paul tells the Colossians. Even if we drift off into slumber after reviewing the gifts of the day, we have praised the Lord.

3. We learn to face the Lord where we are, as we are. There is no other way to be present to God, of course, but we often fool ourselves into thinking that we have to “put on our best face” before we address our God.

4. We learn to respect our feelings. Feelings count. They are morally neutral until we make some choice about acting upon or dealing with them. But if we don’t attend to them, we miss what they have to tell us about the quality of our lives.

5. Praying from feelings, we are liberated from them. An unattended emotion can dominate and manipulate us. Attending to and praying from and about the persons and situations that give rise to the emotions helps us to cease being unwitting slaves of our emotions.

6. We actually find something to bring to confession. That is, we stumble across our sins without making them the primary focus.

7. We can experience an inner healing. People have found that praying about (as opposed to fretting about or denying) feelings leads to a healing of mental life. We probably get a head start on our dreamwork when we do this.

8. This kind of prayer helps us get over our Deism. Deism is belief in a sort of “clock-maker” God, a God who does indeed exist but does not have much, if anything, to do with his people’s ongoing life. The God we have come to know through our Jewish and Christian experience is more present than we usually think.

9. Praying this way is an antidote to the spiritual disease of Pelagianism. Pelagianism was the heresy that approached life with God as a do-it-yourself project (“If at first you don’t succeed…”), whereas a true theology of grace and freedom sees life as response to God’s love (“If today you hear God’s voice…”).

A final thought. How can anyone dare to say that paying attention to felt experience is a listening to the voice of God? On the face of it, it does sound like a dangerous presumption. But, notice, I am not equating memory with the voice of God. I am saying that, if we are to listen for the God who creates and sustains us, we need to take seriously and prayerfully the meeting between the creatures we are and all else that God holds lovingly in existence. That “interface” is the felt experience of my day. It deserves prayerful attention. It is a big part of how we know and respond to God.


Father Dennis Hamm, SJ, a Scripture scholar, teaches in the department of theology at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. Reprinted from America, May 14, 1994.

What is Ignatian Spirituality?

Ignatian spirituality is a method of prayer bequeathed to the Church by the 16th century Basque saint, Ignatius of Loyola. It is a spirituality grounded in the fundamental idea that God labors for us, that He is active in the daily life of man and woman. This spirituality is rooted in the Gospel and in the heart of the Catholic Church. This is a radical theological concept because, for instance, Muslims think it’s heretical to think that God became man (that the Incarnation is a fact) and that  we could (a) know the will of God; (b) that we could have a personal relationship with Him (in Jesus & the Holy Spirit) and (c) that God is always present to us. So, what does Ignatius give us? He wants “above all…you to increase the pure love of Jesus Christ in the desire of His glory and the salvation of the souls which He has redeemed.” This is a spirituality that trains us to “find God in all things.”

Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises as a lay man with the singular intention of drawing others to Christ. The Exercises are guideposts, that is, notes for a spiritual director to use in orienting a retreatant on his or her retreat and are not meant to be read as one would read a novel. As other spiritualities are, the Ignatian way is unique for its constant attention to one’s intimate  relationship with Jesus and discerning the will of God in each person’s life. It is not merely a technique for making good decisions; for that you can seek the counsel of your favorite philosopher; it is a personal way of living graces given to us God. You may say that Ignatian spirituality is way of acknowledging and living the happiness that God’s wills for each of us. I find Ignatius’ method to be a practical spirituality that’s particularly suited to the needs and desires of Christians today.

Ignatian spirituality sees God as actively involved in the world and intimately involved with us in every moment and place. We therefore say that God is in the center of reality, in the mess of history redeeming humanity. We can say with Saint Ignatius that “God’s love is poured forth lavishly like a fountain spilling forth its waters into an unending stream.”Withdrawing from the world into a quiet place in order to find God is understandable but withdrawing from the world is not particularly “Ignatian” for the long haul. That is why Ignatius spoke of those who follow the Exercises as living a life contemplation in action. It is perfectly acceptable to spend an 8-day retreat in the quiet of a monastery or a secluded retreat house. Nevertheless, the virtue of this type spirituality is that is God encountered everywhere –in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. One caution: our work, relationships, family, friends and any other possible detail doesn’t replace our relationship with God,nor does it replace the sacraments, Mass, personal prayer and sacrifice. That is, you can’t hold that “my work is my prayer” and think you are actually following an authentic spirituality. But it is true that God is present to us and we are present to God through all these things (the daily grind of our lives) because of the Incarnation.

From history we know that Loyola is the founder, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of the Society of Jesus, a religious order of priests and brothers called to preach Jesus Christ in communion with the Pope under the standard of the Cross. Since the 1960s a Jesuit defined himself as a sinner redeemed (loved) by Christ. The motto of the Jesuits is Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God) which is based on the Benedictine motto of Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus (That in all things God may be glorified, 1 Peter 4:11): hence, the work of Ignatian spirituality is a life spent glorifying God using everything God has given us in order to live in communion with Him.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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