The Examen of Consciousness

Patrick O’Sullivan SJ talks to us about the Examen : “There is a saying: ‘I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.’ I think this applies especially to the Examen. It is only by doing it that we understand what it is all about. We experience what difference it makes, and can make, to the way we live. The point of the Examen is to see how our choices affect, and can affect, our relationship with Jesus.

“Usually we can see pretty clearly how our choices affect other people. They are there in front of us, in the flesh, to let us know. But it is not always immediately obvious how our choices affect our relationship with Jesus. For example, if I arrange to meet someone for lunch, and don’t bother to turn up, I’ll soon find out how that has affected the relationship. But if I set aside a definite time for prayer, and when the time comes, don’t bother about it, or mumble some sort of excuse to Jesus to cover up – it is by no means obvious how that has affected my relationship with Jesus. But it certainly has, if, through laziness, or lack of interest, I’ve put our relationship on the back-burner. And this is where the Examen comes in, and is so important. It is taking time off, to look back over our day, and giving time for the answer to the question – How have my choices affected my relationship with Jesus? – to come to the fore.

“Now, the climate in which we look at relationships is crucial. If I’m really angry with someone, or afraid of someone, that will colour, dramatically, the way I view our relationship and experience it. Bearing that in mind, the climate in which we move into the Examen is, first of all, one of love. In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius suggests we begin our prayer, not by recalling the presence of God, but by recalling how the Trinity see us; and the Trinity only see us with the eyes of compassion and love.”

One version of the Examen

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