Written by Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.
The examination of conscience (also called “examen”) should be made sometime toward the end of the day. Most people make it shortly before going to bed. It’s basically a mental review of the previous 16 hours or so of consciousness.
To make the examen, first, we should put ourselves in the presence of God. In other words, we should begin with the attitude that the examen is a time of prayer, not just a mental exercise. Devoutly making the Sign of the Cross may be enough to do this.
Next, we just have to remember one word: baker, B-A-K-E-R, baker. Actually, we also have to remember what each letter of this word stands for.
B stands for"blessings". According to St.Ignatius, this is the most important of the five points. Here we simply review our day, survey the many blessings God has given us throughout it, and then praise and thank Him for these blessings. For instance, maybe we had a great conversation with someone at lunch. During the examen, we might want to reflect on that gift on that gift and praise and thank God for it. Of course, we don’t have to go through every single blessing of the day. That would take way too much time. The key is to let one’s heart roam about and settle on the particular peaks of joy and blessing of the day, what Ignatius calls “consolation”. One more thing: We shouldn’t forget to thank God for the crosses of the day, which are also blessings.
A stands for “Ask”. Although we already placed ourselves in the presence of God when we began the examen, here we need to ask for a special grace from the Holy Spirit, the grace to recognize our sins. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll remain blind to our sinfulness. Thus, when we get to this second point, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us recognize our sinfulness, which brings us to the next point.
K stands for “Kill”. Why “kill”? Because it was our sins that killed and crucified Jesus. During this third point, we look at our sinfulness (weaknesses and attachments, too). So, again, we gaze across the conscious hours of our day. This time, however, we look not for peaks but valleys, what Ignatius calls “desolation”. In other words, we pay attention to those times during our day when our hearts dropped. Why might they have dropped? Maybe because of someone else’s sin. Maybe someone said something unkind to us. Fine. Did we forgive them? If so, good. If not, well, the examen is a good time to deal with it.
Now, let’s keep looking. Here’s another time our hearts dropped. It was this afternoon at work, standing by the water cooler. Hmmm. Why did our hearts drop then? Ah, yes (thanks, Holy Spirit), that’s when we struck Bob with a verbal barb. Let’s see, anything else? Yes, there’s another heart dropper. We didn’t accept the traffic jam on our way home as a small sharing in the Cross. We should have been more peaceful about it and offered it up as a prayer for others.
Okay, so after remembering all those heart-dropping moments, we may feel pretty down. Such a feeling may make us want to run away from Jesus. Let’s not. When the weight of our sinfulness drags us down, that’s the best time to go to Jesus, sinfulness and all - which brings us to the next point.
E stands for “embrace”. This is to allow Jesus to embrace us, sinners that we are, with the rays of His merciful love. While praying over this point, it may be helpful to think of the image of Divine Mercy. I like to imagine the rays of this image embracing me with forgiveness. I also like to remember Jesus’ words that it rests His Heart to forgive and that when I go to Him with my sinfulness, I give Him the joy of being my Savior. I believe that at this point of the examen, we greatly console Jesus when we simply let Him embrace us with His merciful love - and of course, we, too, are consoled. I recommend spending some time lingering on this point (in the embrace) before moving on to the next.
R stands for “Resolution”. During this last point of the examen, we take what we’ve learned from the previous points and look ahead to the next day, ready to make resolutions. For instance, having recognized during “K” that we stuck Bob with a verbal barb at the office today, we might resolve that tomorrow morning we’ll make it up to him by going to his cubicle, slapping him on the back, and congratulating him on how his football team did earlier this evening. Also, having remembered that we were impatient during the traffic jam today, we can resolve to bite our tongues if the sea of brake lights appears again tomorrow. Finally, because during “B” we realized that God was speaking to us during our lunchtime conversation with Sally, giving light on a certain problem, we can resolve to act on that light by looking up the online article she recommended. (I think we get the idea.)