By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Ignatian tradition.
My first encounter with the Ignatian tradition of prayer occurred when my older daughter attended high school at St. Ignatius. Every Friday when I volunteered in the library, a voice came over the P.A. system and everyone stopped what they were doing to pray the Ignatian Examen. That experience led me to join a group of mothers who were following the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.
The Examen (short for “Examination of Conscience”), is part of the Spiritual Exercises created by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a Basque nobleman and soldier born in 1491. While recovering from a battle injury, Ignatius had a profound conversion experience that led him to ultimately found the Jesuit Order (the “Society of Jesus”). The Spiritual Exercises can be summed up by posing three questions: “Because of what Christ has done for me, what have I done? What am I doing? And what will I do?” (304)
The key to practicing the Examen is to take time out for a moment of quiet in the midst of your daily activities. You begin by pausing to recall that wherever you are, you are in the presence of God and God’s creation. You become aware that, as Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Once you have centered yourself, you thank God for the good things that have come your way during the course of your day. Next you ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to look upon yourself honestly, yet without condemnation, as you examine how you have been living that day.
Specifically, you look for Christ in the people, circumstances and events you have encountered throughout your day and compare your actions and attitudes to those of Christ. Essentially, you ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?” You
identify areas you could change to become more like Christ. Finally, you express sorrow and ask God’s forgiveness for the failings you discovered during your reflection. You resolve to do better when the next opportunity arises.
To follow the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, you imaginatively place yourself in the biblical scenes found in the Scriptures as if you were actually present. Rather than a distant, impersonal figure, Jesus becomes a person you know and love who suffers and is crucified.
Prayer in the Ignatian tradition is a form of spirituality that is easily adapted to everyday life. It is popular with lay people because it is practical and accessible. It is also the perfect type of prayer for Lent, a time of spiritual housecleaning. In fact, my Lenten resolution is to recreate my experience at St. Ignatius by setting an alarm on my phone to pray the Examen every day. Walking with Christ by following the Spiritual Exercises would be an excellent Lenten practice as well.
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