James Martin, S.J.December 30, 2019
Photo by Chansereypich Seng on Unsplash

If you have time today, why not do an annual “examen”? St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, encouraged us to do a daily “examen,” or “examination of conscience,” where we look back over the day to see where God has been active. It’s a way to help us notice, be grateful and experience the desire for change.

You can do it for a whole year too, and Dec. 31 is the perfect time. Here’s how. Give yourself some time, maybe 30 minutes or so. Or longer if it’s been an eventful year.

1.) Remember that you’re in God’s presence. That’s essential for any prayer. It’s not just you running through a list or talking to yourself. You’re doing it with God. Ignatius used to recommend actually looking at the physical place where you’ll be praying (a chair, on the floor, in a pew) and imagine God looking at you. It helps you to remember God is with you. Or you could simply invite God to be with you. God is always with us, but it’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially when we pray.

2.) Call to mind what you’re grateful for. Think of all the wonderful things that happened to you this year. Take your time to do this. Savor them, like you would savor a good meal. And give thanks to God for them. Even if you’ve had a bad year, call to mind what you’re grateful for. You may be surprised by how many wonderful events you’ve forgotten about. Know that these are God’s gifts to you.

3.) Review the year. Of course you can’t do this day by day, but perhaps go month by month. Or just do it by topic—family, friends, work and so on. Cast your mind back over the year. Notice where God was present, where you said yes to God’s invitation to greater love. Where God loved you. Notice.

4.) Express your sorrow. Surely in the space of 365 days you’ve done some things you regret. Tell God you’re sorry. If you have really harmed someone, the last day of the year is a good time to seek forgiveness. Think about going to confession if you’re Catholic and conscious of grave sin. But don’t wallow in your sins: remember you’re human and we all make mistakes.

5.) Ask God for the grace to live 2020 as a good person. All of us have things that we’ll need God’s grace to face: health problems, financial problems, family problems, work problems. So ask God for help. Be specific about what you need. St. Ignatius often encouraged people to pray for what they want and need. Finally, ask for the grace to see God’s presence in the new year.

And throw in a prayer for me. I need help too.

Happy New Year!

More: Prayer
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