A Beginner’s Guide to the Examen: Part 1

The examen prayer has always seemed like a good idea to me, but, despite googling it and searching for it in Wikipedia, I’ve been confused and the practise has remained a mystery to me. Until now, my understanding of the examen prayer comes from hearing snippets of Fr Timothy Gallagher, who I sometimes hear talking about Ignatian spirituality on Catholic radio.

The examen prayer

This Lent, I have resolved to finally learn more about the examen. I added Fr Timothy Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer, to my Amazon wishlist. On Valentine’s Day, I unwrapped an Ignatian-themed Valentine’s gift from my husband (A perfect Valentine’s-Ash Wednesday mash-up gift!). This Lent, I hope to slowly work through the book, and share what I learn here.

Why learn the examen prayer?

The examen prayer is a powerful spiritual tool. With regular practice, it can help people be better able to discern spirits, recognise God’s abundent love in the course of a day, review the day through the lens  of God’s love and mercy, and simply put, be able to recognise God in the every day. The examen prayer is such an important practice, Pope Francis even makes time daily to pray it.

To begin, an outline of the examen’s outline may be helpful;

Transition– becoming aware of God’s love for me

  1. Gratitude– noting the gifts God has given me today and thanking Him for them
  2. Petition– asking God for the grace and strength to make the examen a work of grace
  3. Review– review the day with God
  4. Forgiveness– asking for God’s forgiveness and healing
  5. Renewal– look at the next day and plan how to live according to God’s loving desire

Transition– be aware of God’s presence within me

Conclusion

Step One: Gratitude

Ever seen a #gratefultweet on Twitter? (sometimes simply a grateful tweet, or, some individuals resolve to make their first tweet of the day a grateful tweet, every day). Know someone who keeps a gratitude journal? Ever read about scientific studies on gratitude? From improving sleep and mental health to improving relationships and self-esteem, a little gratitude can go a long way.

st ignatiusSecular studies aside, let’s get back to our spiritual master,  St Ignatius himself.

According to St Ignatius, the first step in the examen prayer is “to give thanks to the God our Lord for the benefits received” (Spiritual Exercise 43). This first step reviews God’s gifts during the day, with gratitude. This act of thanksguvung helps us to experience God as a giving God. God is continuosly bombarding us with love, grace and gifts. Are we open to receive them? Are we even aware of them? Imagine God’s happiness when, instead of ignoring these gifts or are oblivious to them, we are grateful for them and thank Him. Fr. Timothy explains,

Gratitude opens a window into the deepest reality of our spiritual lives: God’s unbounded love for us and desire for our response, in love, to the love revealed in this giving.

Through achnowledging these gifts, we are able to recognise God’s personal love for us, and sense His loving presence in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Fr. Timothy advises us not to hurry past this step:

For Ignatius… recognising God’s loving gifts and recognising God’s loving presence through them- summarised in the word “gratitude”- lies at the very heart of our relationship with God.

This week, I will focus on this first step of the examen prayer before moving onto the next step, petition.

Actions

  • Begin a gratitude journal, writing down a few things few things for which to be grateful at the end of every day
  • Set a couple of alarms on my phone (perhaps 11am and 4pm?). These alarms will serve the purpose of reminding me of God’s abundent love for me, and promt me to pause and reflect on the gifts God has already given me
  • Re-read chapter on this step in The Examen Prayer book

Find Godin all things

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St Francis de Sales

During Advent, I was in a Catholic shop when a small book caught my eye; “Letters to a Wife and Mother”. Without even flicking through it, I bought it, brought it home and started reading…

The book contained the correspondence between a lady (whose name escapes me at the moment), and Fr. Francis. Reading the letters, it felt like St Francis was writing to me;

“Have patience with all things, but first with yourself.” St Francis de Sales, Letters to a Wife and Mother

The letters are as readable today as they were in the late 1500s and early 1600s when he wrote them. St. Francis was know well known for his spiritual direction and wrote over 10,000 letters during his ministry as priest and bishop.

So, when it came to my annual tradition of choosing a patron saint for the year, I felt St. Francis had already adopted me. Since being adopted by St. Francis, I’ve discovered he’s a doctor of the Church and has written many books on the spiritual life. So many, in fact, that he is the patron saint of writers.

I quickly resolved to give up my magazine habit, and instead will spend my magazine budget on books about or by St. Francis (I’m covered for the first four months!). I look forward to a year of exploring Salesian spirituality, with the Salesian saint himself.

While I am no expert, I have discovered some of his sage wisdom during my first few weeks under his wing:

  1. In some ways, St Francis de Sales’ teachings are a pre-cursor to the Second Vatican Council’s universal call to holiness;

    “It is an error… to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman” St Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

  2. We need to recognise the goodness of God’s will, and learn to submit to it (remembering the goodness of it makes it a bit easier, right?!). Contemplate Jesus on the cross and pray “into thy hands I commend my spirit” for total self-renunciation.
  3. “Delight opens up the heart, just as sorrow closes it.” St Francis de Sales, Finding God’s Will for You

    Through taking delight in God, we become conformed to Him and our will is transformed to God’s will.

Happy and blessed feast of St. Francis de Sales!

Tenha uma

Pro-Life Ireland: An English Perspective

My submission to The Citizen’s Assembly on the 8th Amendment

In Ireland, the life of an unborn baby is protected by the 8th amendment in the Irish Constitution:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Sadly, this right to life forthe most vunerable in society is under attack, and there is pressure to repeal the 8th amendment. In 2016, the Citizens Assembley was established to consider a variety of issues, including repealing the 8th amendment. The general public were welcome to make a submission for the Citizens Assembley to consider. These are now available online to read.

Below is a copy of my submission to the Citizens Assembley:

I’m an Irish woman who grew up in England. When I first moved to Ireland a few years ago, I was struck by the number of people I saw with Downs Syndrome. That may sound crass, but in England, you very rarely see someone with Downs Syndrome, because 90% of unborn babies diagnosed with Downs Syndrome are aborted.

I had the privilege of volunteering with some young adults with Downs Syndrome and I looked forward to the time I spent with them- we would chat and laugh over a cup of tea and a biscuit, and then we would get to work- these young adults were talented artists and sold their wares at a craft market. They made me smile, laugh and cry. I learned a lot from them. Although I no longer volunteer there, I often think about the group of artists. They made a big impression on me.

I recently read a headline which stated that Downs Syndrome may be cured by 2030. As I read the article, I realised the headline should have read “eradicated” rather than “cured”, as it discussed how there would not be any more cases of Downs Syndrome because all unborn babies diagnosed with Downs Syndrome would have been aborted. Is abortion really a cure?

Gandi famously said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. This includes unborn babies. I admire how Ireland nurtures and celebrates its citizens with special needs. It’s something special and unique to Ireland. I have such admiration and respect for people who work with organisations such as Order of Malta and St John of God, helping people with special needs live independently, learn life skills and foster their talents.

I had never even heard of the Special Olympics until I moved to Ireland. It seems paradoxical that, while the Special Olympics is celebrated in Ireland, there is a drive for abortion in certain circles. Let’s not kid ourselves, abortion won’t just be for mothers at risk of suicide or with an unborn baby with a life-limiting condition. Opening the door of abortion leads to a slippery slope.

In England and Wales, abortion was introduced in 1967 on supposedly “restrictive grounds”. Today, 1 in every 5 pregnancies ends in abortion in England and Wales. David Steel, architect of the 1967 Abortion bill in England and Wales, told an Irish newspaper that he “never envisaged there would so many abortions”. I fear this will inevitably happen in Ireland if the 8th amendment is repealed. The 8th amendment has saved 100,000 lives in Ireland.

Be proud, Ireland, and continue to protect the most vulnerable of human life- the unborn child in the womb. Keep the 8th.

Unhappy Halloween

I love autumn! This time last year, I spent a few weeks in America. Oh wow! The leaves, the pumpkin patches, the fall décor, the pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin muffins, pretty porches…  America knows how to do autumn! It was beautiful.

We miss out on a lot of that in Ireland, and go straight to Halloween. In the ‘old days’, as kids, we’d throw on bedsheets, and go down to the neighbours’ trick or treating, expecting a few modest treats, and without the slightest thought of a trick.

Today, things have changed, and it’s not just because now I’m a mother, or someone who doesn’t watch films rated more than a 12. Halloween is no longer fun, it’s scary. Treats are bigger. So are tricks. Halloween has become humongous, super-commercial, sexier and scarier. More frightening than fun. Shops have gruesome Halloween displays in their windows, supermarket aisles are littered with broomsticks and blood. At the end of a recent shopping trip, I found myself waiting in line behind the cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter. OK, obviously not Hannibal Lecter, but a young boy (perhaps 8 or 9?) with a Hannibal Lecter mask on. Speechless.

Reflecting on the Halloween madness, I didn’t know how to approach it with my daughter until today, when I read a friend’s social media update. It went something like this: “Can’t wait for Halloween to be over, roll on 1st November”. A little bell went off in my head. November 1st… All Saints Day… followed by All Souls day. But that’s what it’s really about!

So, while I don’t have an answer to the Halloween problem, I’m going to start by telling my little girl stories of the saints (so many amazing stories!), lighting candles, and praying for our family and friends who have passed away, during November. We’ll enjoy the season and do autumn crafts and saint crafts, collect leaves and conkers, and maybe even toast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate. Hopefully, with God’s grace, we’ll keep the ghouls and zombies at bay and maybe, in a few years, she’ll  dress up as one of her role-models, or maybe even her favourite saint…

 

Spiritual Highlights of 2015

On the last day of 2015, there was a certain symmetry in the Mass readings: the first reading (1 John 2:18-21) began, “Children, these are the last days”. The Gospel began, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God…” (John 1:1-18). As one year ends and a new one begins, I’ve been looking back at 2015 and making plans for 2016 (including making new year resolutions and my 2016 reading list!). After reading these readings, I pondered my own spiritual journey. In these last days, how is my spiritual life? How am I drawing closer to God? Am I growing in faith and sharing the Good News?

2015 has been a year of many blessings and graces. Here are a few spiritual highlights:

Spiritual Highlights of 2015 Talking About Family Catholic Blog

World Meeting of Families 2015 logoWorld Meeting of Families

In September, my husband, my 18 month daughter and I made the pilgrimage to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Part of me thought we were crazy, travelling from Ireland with a little one for this huge congress. When we arrived, I was bowled over by families who had also made the voyage; big families, young families, people from Africa, Poland, Vietnam… we even met Americans who had travelled further than us!

The excellent keynote talks, the stimulating break-out sessions and the Holy Spirit inspired encounters we had in between gave me so much hope and encouragement to be a witness to the Catholic faith through my family life.

with Teresa Tomeo of Ave Maria Radio at World Meeting of Families Talking About Families Blog

I listen to Teresa Tomeo every day on Ave Maria Radio. At the World Meeting of Families, I bumped into her! #StarstruckCatholicGirl

(The World Meeting of Families was action-packed, but I did manage to write a few blog posts and write an article for the Irish Catholic.)

Pope Francis’ visit to the US

The World Meeting of Families ended with the Festival of Families and a closing Mass, led by Pope Francis. Gathered with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, praying in different languages, led by Christ’s vicar on Earth, Pope Francis, I am struck by the scale and universality of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Oh, and the most amazing news was announced at the end of Mass. Did you hear where the next World Meeting of Families will be? IRELAND!!!!

blessedissheBlessed is She (BIS)

It is not always easy to find a Catholic community, or even Catholic friends.This year, I discovered the Blessed Is She Community, aka the #BISsisterhood, and quickly made their daily devotions part of daily prayer time. Written by Catholic women from all walks of life, the devotions give me an insight into the daily Mass readings where I sometimes struggle, and help me see how the Gospel is applicable in my life, today.

From the daily devotional appearing in my inbox, I have followed the #BISsisterhood on Instagram and Twitter, joined the BIS Europe Facebook group, become a regular reader of the blog. Through BIS, I have also discovered a host of Catholic podcasts including Jenna’s Building Bridges podcast, The Visitation Project and Fountains of Carrots, which inject my car journeys, runs and piles of laundry with interesting Catholic chat.

Best of all, the online community has spilled offline- through the community, I made a new friend who lives not too far away. Hi AnneMarie! Hopefully there will be a the first Blessed Brunch in Ireland in 2016!

Joining a women’s prayer group

Talking about local community, I was over-joyed to discover a women’s prayer group in my area. It is the first time I have ever been part of a women’s prayer group and there is something really special about it. In any other situation, it could be super-intimidating to walk into a stranger’s house on a dark winter’s evening, and into a packed room of twenty women that you’ve never met. But it wasn’t. In fact, it felt like I was walking into a room of good friends, my sisters-in-Christ. The women are from all walks and stages of life but have one thing in common- their love the Lord.

What were your spiritual highlights of 2015? What are you looking forward to in 2016? I would love to hear your comments 🙂

My Reading List for 2016

Did I ever mention I am doing an MA in Applied Theology? I don’t think I have ever talked about it much on the blog… Anyway, I am two years in and I am currently on a ‘study break’, mainly to discern what to do my dissertation on as I have no idea! That’s what I am hoping to do in 2016.

This is the first time I have ever created a reading list. The main aim of it is to keep me focussed during my year of discernment. The majority of the books have come across during my studies and I books I would like to read or re-read. I have also included some books I would like to read for pleasure, because, well, variety is the spice of life!

reading list 2016

One Thousand Gifts Ann VoskampJanuary

  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
  • Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
  • Fatal Misconception: The struggle to control the world’s population by Matthew Connelly

February

  • Unplanned by Abby Johnson
  • I Just Came For Ashes
  • The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations by Christopher Lasch
  • A Feast for Lent by Delia Smith
  • The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

March

  • Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged by Nicholas Lasch
  • Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI
  • Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly
  • Familiaris Consortio by Saint John Paul

April

  • Called to Love by Anderson and Granados
  • A Civilization of Love by Carl Anderson
  • The Way, Furrow, the Forge by Jose Maria Escriva
  • Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI

May

  • The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur
  • Mulieris Dignitatem by Saint John Paul
  • Liquid Love by Zygmunt Bauman
  • The Transformation of Intimacy by Anthony Giddens

June

  • Extreme Makeover by Teresa Tomeo
  • Takedown by Paul Kengor
  • Mystery and Sacrament of Love: A Theology of Marriage and the Family for the New Evangelization by Cardinal Ouellet

July

  • Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo
  • Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship by Paul C. Vitz
  • The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

August

  • Love and Responsibility by Karol Wojytyla

September

  • The Story of a Soul by St Therese of Lisieux
  • God’s World and Our Place in it by Fulton Sheen

October

  • The Domestic Church by Cooper O’Boyle
  • Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

November

  • Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
  • The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland

hahnDecember

  • Joy to the World by Scott Hahn
  • Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Pope Benedict XVI

7 Goals for 2016

Can you believe its almost 2016? Yes, Twenty Sixteen! Have you made any new year’s resolutions yet? Here are 7 of mine:

7 goals for 2016 New Year Resolutions Talking About Family

  1. Pray Pray Pray

Spend time every day with God. Read Scripture. Read my Magnificat. Do a bible study. Pray as a family / couple every day. Continue to journal.

2. Find a place for everything

I’m really trying to declutter, downsize and get organised. I made a big effort to donate items and clear out during Advent, and I have no plans to stop. Its too easy to get attached to things of this world and accumulate stuff. My goal is to find a place for everything, or throw it out!

3. Health and Fitness

I lost quite a few pounds in 2015, through a combination of diet and exercise. As I have somewhat abandoned the diet, the weigh loss has plateaued, so I intend to get back on track in 2016 and lose the last stone!

I also aim to run at last 15k a week (3 x 5k), and complete a 10k in the first half of the year. I took up running after having my daughter, and did my first 10k last year- hopefully I will complete it in a faster time this year!

4. Find a place for technology

My number one resolution for 2015 was to read more on paper than on screen, which I think I achieved. As a mother of a growing girl, I am increasingly aware of the impact of my tech use on her life. I am also currently reading Reclaiming Conversation by psychologist Sherry Turkle. This podcast is well worth a listen.

 

So, 2016 will involve a digital detox, and hopefully I will find a happy, practical balance.

5. Read Read Read

In 2016, I hope to rediscover my inner bookworm, which I lost while doing my BA, about 15 years ago.

Reading list to follow!

One Thousand Gifts Ann Voskamp6. Be Grateful

I am (also) currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Voskamp’s perspective and life is transformed when she starts counting her gifts and graces, even amid the pain that life throws up.

In 2016, I am going to start counting my own gifts, the things I am grateful for.

7. Learn 1000 words in Irish

My husband is fluent in Irish and speaks as Gaeilge to our daughter. I don’t want to miss anything!

Also, I hope to learn several prayers and parts of the Mass including:

  • Hail Mary
  • Lamb of God
  • the second part of the ‘Our Father’
  • Holy Holy

This will come in handy when the priest slips into Irish, as occasionally happens here in Ireland!

Do you have any goals for 2016? I would love to hear from you 🙂 Happy new year!

For more quick takes, visit This Aint the Lyceum.