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The examen

We’ve heard it said that God is constantly present with us, that he has “counted all the hairs on our head.” But how can we be more aware of him in our daily lives?


Last summer as part of my seminarian training, I attended the Institute for Priestly Formation and learned something called the “examen of consciousness” that has helped me encounter God more personally in prayer. This method of prayer goes beyond a daily conscience examination, where we look only at the times in our day where we failed the Lord. The examen of consciousness is a means to enter into deeper conversation with the Lord throughout the day and become more aware of his hand in our lives.


My first step — important in most forms of prayer — is finding a quiet place to reflect, whether in the chapel, in my room, or a bench in a park, a place to be alone with God and my thoughts without the buzzing of the phone close by. In this state of peace, I invite the love of God by imagining the face of Christ or desiring his gaze from the tabernacle. Next, I become aware of how God looks at me this moment: as his beloved adopted son.


As the encounter unfolds, the steps flow together, sometimes back and forth. In my heart, I petition the Lord to give me insight and strength to embrace his grace to work with the Holy Spirit as I look over the last day. In the stillness of my heart, I thank God for the gifts he has given me this day: another day in seminary, the brothers who are helping me grow in holiness, or the opportunity to visit Our Lady at the grotto that sits above us.


The review turns to those encounters in my day where I have cooperated with his grace. Today it was just being a presence and listening to a brother share some of his struggles, giving a friend a ride at night and experiencing God’s smile at a seemingly ordinary, small act of charity.


There are also moments where I have not been aware of or cooperated with the acts of charity that God offers me, times when I have acted against what God desires, maybe by not being available to someone in need, or recognizing that I spurned a character trait in someone else that I myself have exhibited.


I turn to the Lord and ask for forgiveness for my lack of charity; he lets me know he still loves me and reminds me to turn my sorrow over to him, whose burden is light. In my heart, I praise God for the times I cooperated with him and also for the gift of his mercy, especially as he gently reveals not only the action but the motivation that hindered accepting his grace. I return my eyes to God’s image and end the examen, grateful for a deeper and more loving relationship with God.


Using this practice of the examen of consciousness has made me more aware of God’s presence and desired action in my life, such that I strive each day to listen and respond more actively. It has also helped me have more peace when I do fail, knowing his mercy awaits me.


John O’Farrell, who is from the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria, is in his first year of theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019