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Examination of Conscience

Image from Alhambra Carmelite Sisters O.C.D., Examen Prayer

Divine Intimacy #103:  “To insure an orderly and progressive growth in spiritual life, we must know ourselves.  We have to consider our sins, our weak points, our evil tendencies, as well as progress we have already made, the favorable results we have attained, and our inclinations to good.  This knowledge of our interior state is obtained through the examination of conscience  The Examen, considered in this way, becomes one of the most important exercises of the spiritual life since its object is to help the soul to rid itself of everything that might obstruct of delay it’s journey to God and to stimulate it to quicken its pace toward Him. Just as we cannot wage war with an unknown enemy, or make conquest of an unknown region, in the same way, it is impossible to fight the evil in ourselves if we have not previously identified it. We can never attain sanctity if we have not looked for an efficacious means of acquiring it. In other words, the examination of conscience attains its end when the soul who has faithfully practiced this exercise can say to itself: these are the inclinations which I must watch more carefully to avoid falling into sin; these, the weak points which I must strengthen; these are the virtues that I must practice most of all. In this way, the soul will be able to formulate practical, firm resolutions which will then become the special subject of its subsequent examinations.

It is clear that we mut first recognize and combat any tendencies which could lead us to mortal sin.  But then, those that could bring us to venial sin or to simple voluntary imperfections must be similarly treated.  Everything that constitutes a deliberate fault must be progressively and energetically rooted out of the soul which aspires to divine union.”  (Divine Intimacy, by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.)

Additional Resources includes: Father Timothy Gallagher’s book titled “The Examen Prayer”, where he outlines the following steps presented in Ignatius Spiritual Exercises (no. 43)

Transition:  I become aware of the love with which God looks upon me as I begin this examen

Step 1:  Gratiutude.  I note the gifts that God’s love has given me this day and I give thanks to God for them

Step 2:  Petition.  I ask God for an insight and strength that will make this examen a work of grace, fruitful beyond my human capacity alone

Step 3:  Review.  With my God, I review the day.  I look from the stirrings in my heart and the thoughts that God has given me this day.  I look also for those that have not been of God.  I review my choices in response to both, and throughout the day in general

Step 4:  Forgiveness. I ask for the healing touch of the forgiving God who, with love and respect for me, removes my heart’s burdens

Step 5: Renewal.  I look to the following day and with God, plan concretely how to live it in accord with God’s loving desire for my life

Transition:  Aware of God’s presence with me, I prayerfully conclude the examen.

To What Are You Attached?

Recently, I heard Fr Watson say: ”The one thing you are attached to is the one thing God wants.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  Immediately I began to take inventory of my attachments, both large and small. 

Why does God want our attachment(s)?

“To be perfectly united to God by love and will, the soul must first be cleansed of all appetites of the will, even the smallest” (John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel Book1, 11,3) In the language of St John of the Cross, appetites are disordered inclinations or affections, more or less contrary to the divine will.  God wishes us to love ourselves, as well as all created things, in the measure assigned by Him, with a view to His pleasure and not to our own selfish satisfaction.  These inclinations or appetites always give rise to venial sins, or at least to deliberate imperfections, when one willingly yields to them, even though it be only in matter of slight importance.   The will of the soul which freely assents to these failings, slight though they be, is stained by this opposition to the will of God; for this reason, a perfect union cannot exist between its will and God’s.  Moreover, if these imperfections become habitual and the soul does not try to correct them, they form a great obstacle to divine union; and according to St John of the Cross, “they prevent not only divine union but also advancement in perfection” (Divine Intimacy #79 Voluntary attachments)

For example:  “As long as attachment remains, it is impossible to make progress in perfection, even though the imperfection may be very small.  It makes little difference whether a bird is tied by a thin thread or by a cord.  Even if it is tied by a thread, the bird will be held bound least as surely as if it were tied by cord; that is, it will be impeded from flying as long as it does not break the thread.’  (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One, Chapter11.4)’

Are you aware of your attachments?  

Being aware of our attachments is the first step.  Do you love and/or trust someone or something more than God?  And once we are aware of our attachments, how does John of the Cross recommend detaching from creature and things, even the smallest imperfection? 

Endeavor always…“Not to the easiest, but to the most difficult; Not to the most delightful, but to the most distasteful; Not to the most gratifying, but to the less pleasant; Not to what means rest for you, but to hard work; Not to the consoling, but to the unconsoling; Not to the most, but to the least; not to the highest and most precious, but to the lowest and most despised; not to wanting something, but to wanting nothing. “ (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One, Chapter13.5)

What is Sacred Time and Sacred Space?

St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross – and all great saints set aside Sacred Time and Sacred Space for prayer. 

What is Sacred Time? For anyone interested in progressing in their spiritual life, it is necessary to set aside time for prayer, time that is sacred and non-negotiable.  For me, morning prayer time is the first thing I do each morning (at 4:30 am).  By getting up a little earlier in the morning, I’m not rushed, not tempted to check my emails, and have the least distractions in my day.  My evening prayer, mental prayer, and spiritual reading and studies are normally from 7-9pm.

What is a Sacred Space?  Sacred Space is a place set apart in your home and/or garden and used for nothing else but prayer, and includes: your favorite icons, candles, crucifix, and whatever draws your eyes and heart toward God.   

From “Time for God’ by Jacque Philippe

“God is present everywhere, and we can pray anywhere at all:  in our room, in an oratory, before the Blessed Sacrament, on a train or even in a supermarket checkout line.  But obviously it is desireable to find a place that favors silence, recollection, and attention to God’s presence.  The best place of all, when feasible, is a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, especially if it is exposed, so that we can benefit from the grace of our Lord’s Real Presence’…‘When prayer becomes harder, resting one’s eyes on an icon or candle flame can lead us back to God’s presence’. 

From “Into the Deep” by Dan Burke

“Jesus instructed his followers to pray in secret in their “inner room” (see Matthew 6:6). It is ideal to create a space dedicated to prayer and nothing else. You might think this is not feasible, but it only requires a few feet of space. You can use any suitable surface for a favorite icon, candle, or holy image; for example, a quiet, unused corner space with a small shelf. One person I know crawls into her closet under the hanging clothing to pray sitting on pillows (no candles allowed in there!). My first prayer space was a very simple combination of a windowsill, an icon, a candle, and a small bench. The entire space took up less than four square feet. Your space need not be large or complicated, just protected and set aside for your use during prayer. Be sure that your prayer space is peaceful and devoid of anything that might draw your attention or distract you (computers, phones, TV, iThings, etc.). This space may include special lighting, candles, or incense to create an atmosphere that fosters calm and peace and signals your mind, body, and soul—through your senses—that it is time to pray. The presence of icons and other visual aids for meditation helps make this signal very clear and effectual. Just as you set aside a special time for God, it is important to dedicate this special space to use just for your time with him. The effect over time is that you will enter this sacred space and will naturally be drawn to prayer. This is one of the least known but effective secrets of a profound prayer life. Building the habit of prayer includes the environment, and its overall effect will be to help you to pray.”

I have two prayer spaces – one in my room and one in the backyard.   The prayer space in my room is simple and includes a Crucifix made of Jerusalem Stone surrounded by fragrant vanilla votive candles. The Silver Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus is from West Bank, and a reminder of my Pilgrimage to Israel and walking in the footsteps of Jesus.  A third-class relic of St Therese of Lisieux’s is for the Saint’s intercession.  A stone from the Desert where Jesus was tempted by the devil, is a reminder that the evil one will do anything to attack our identity.  I also include a few of my favorite prayer and spiritual books and a rosary.

This peacefully space resides beneath Kincaid’s  “Sweetheart Cottage III”.  I love nature and to ponder the Holy Trinity.  This scenic mountain top view reminds me of my ‘Ascent’ to God. Here I imagine myself sitting on the front steps in wander and awe of all that of God.

During the seasons I will change my sacred space to include a advent wreath, nativity scene, olive wood figures, or icons of favorite saints.

In my flower garden I have a garden statue of Our Lady of Grace where I can sit and meditate or pray the rosary. In this photo the sunlight graces the top of her head with a halo.

Do you have a Sacred Time set aside for Morning and Evening Prayer?  For Mental Prayer?  For Spiritual Reading? Do you have a Sacred Space?  If you were to create a Sacred Space what would it look like?  It’s not too late to start!