The New Year is the perfect place to start anew. Periodically, if not daily, organizations evaluate themselves to determine if their mission and goals are being realized. Accepting the status quo is out of the question. Streamlined and creative strategies are sought to sharpen their public images.
The same principle holds true for us whether or not we hold to religious views. We want to live more healthy, reflective and meaningful lives.
The dictum, “know thyself,” was made famous by Socrates, but it has been attributed to many Greek sages. The pithy phrase and long-established wisdom is the basis for all knowledge. An individual, aware of one’s thoughts, likes, dislikes, prejudices, habits, and indulgences, becomes more understanding of humanity as well. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable person thought of in the creator’s mind. Self-discovery avoids depending on the opinions of others, or worse, living to please them.
Being alone is also part of life. Unlike loneliness, which is a form of defeat, solitude is victory. These are moments when we are alone with our thoughts. As busy people, we spend most of our time not in isolation or in solitude but in the public forum. We face unexpected events, and we make major and minor decisions every day. Life permits events, big and small, to happen to us. Life deals out joys and sorrows through events that are often beyond our control. Self-discovery should bring with it balance, poise, and moderation.
Prayer for Self-Knowledge and Finding God in All Things
In observing the life of Jesus Christ, we see that he lived to please his Father. He was at one with his Father spending long hours with him in prayer. Jesus taught his followers to do likewise. From earliest times, the Fathers of the Church exhorted the faithful to find God in the sacrament of the present moment, in ordinary and monotonous times as well as during feasts and pleasant events. This means knowing at the close of the day that we have tried to live in harmony with all reality, with God and oneself, with others, and with the specific circumstances of our lives. Ladislas Orsy, S.J. reflects that “at a time of monotony, the interior of an individual awakes. He or she can reflect on self and on the outside world. The quiet rhythm of the ordinary is the best framework for thinking in depth. Great deeds and movements never originated in shallow thoughts; all giant trees have deep roots” (The Lord of Confusion, 38-39).
The key to experiencing peace and consolation is the self-knowledge that God gives. It is a prayer that takes place ideally twice each day and certainly before one retires. Taking about ten minutes (and can be done while traveling), the daily examen moves beyond concern with sin. It focuses on the quality of my life as it encounters God, others, and daily circumstances.
What Is the Daily Examen?
The daily examen is a time of prayer when I evaluate the hours and activities of the day in the light of my faith. The examen helps me to seek and find God in all things. As prayer is for action, so action is for prayer. In the examen, I pray about my relationship with God and with myself, with others and in the world around me. The power of God at work in me is the very same power at work in others.
The daily examen keeps me poised before all creation uniting me to God and to the world as I pray over my thoughts, my speech, opinions, aspirations, desires, decisions, over my physical, spiritual, material and mental needs, over everything that is part of my life.
The Universal Call to Holiness
The Second Vatican Council proclaimed in so many ways that the call to holiness is a universal one. Our holiness is God’s glory. More than ever, we Catholics are called to live and witness to our faith in public. Mothers, who raise their children at home in “the Domestic Church” are privileged to help them grow into responsible citizens and God’s works of art. A most noble vocation!
The Daily Examen Proper
An outline for the daily examen follows below:
(1) God. How has God shown his love for me today/this morning/this afternoon? Thank God. Living the liturgy is a way of living with God. What feast does the Church celebrate today? What meaning does it have for me?
(2) Self. I pray for the grace of self-knowledge. I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance so that I see my day as God sees it. What is out of control in my life? Where is there too much or too little? What I say to myself is more important than what I say to others. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not know what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15). I pause and reflect.
(3) Others. Did I thank others for their service or kindness? Was I unkind to others? Did I gossip? Did I judge others by their external actions when I cannot know what is really going on inside them? How much tolerance did I have for weakness in others? “See these Christians, how they love one another,” St. John the Apostle was fond of saying to his disciples. Love is a decision shown more by deeds than by words, by accepting people as they are rather than by trying to change them. I am called to love unselfishly those who need my time and energy, my patience, generosity, and wisdom. I pause and reflect.
(4) Circumstances. How strong is my belief in Divine Providence? How did I deal with today’s difficulties? Did I ask God for wisdom? To remove or resolve the adversity that is beyond my control? Did I cast my care on the Lord?
The most authentic manifestation of God’s creative plan reveals itself gently and infallibly in the external events of our lives much more than what we construe through our own discernment. God enters into the very act of our creative struggle – like a mother in childbirth, or like artists bringing forth their labor of love. For the most part, our struggle is not with God but with expectations of ourselves and of others.
When things are going poorly, two approaches present themselves. One is to build up expectations, legitimate in our minds, of ourselves and of others. When things do not follow our plan, conflict ensues and we appeal to anger, self-righteousness or matters of principle. We blame others and ask why they do not behave differently. The other approach is to do whatever possible to change the situation, but to avoid dwelling on expectations. We watch and wait for the events to unfold in God’s creative time. When we notice something that needs our response or intervention, we should plan and act accordingly. The events are there for us to shape, events that will need our creative energy. During difficult times, we need to pray for and practice common sense, balance, and joy.
(5) I express sorrow for my faults, and resolve to do better this afternoon/tomorrow.
(6) I pray for inner peace.
The Importance of Being Earnest
In Early Christianity, it was a crime to be followers of Jesus because they would not bow to paganism. For this affront, the Roman gods were displeased. The disciples believed with implacable faith that Jesus was the way who promised future life. His message defended the dignity of slave and free men and women. This subversive Christianity cared for others, supporting the needy–one could say, as in the first welfare system. They were considered intolerant, exclusive, and dangerous. They had to be destroyed.
It was inconceivable that such a stray minority living in danger of their lives, especially at Eucharistic worship, would overcome paganism. When one thinks that three-quarters of them were slaves, why did they succeed? Their faith remained unbudgeable. In private and in public, they lived quietly and without proselytizing. They went about their work externally blending with others, but internally, their hearts belonged exclusively to the Lord. Christianity spread by example, and they won over the mighty Roman Empire. Many shed their blood, and the heroism of Sts. Anastasia, Perpetua, Lucy, Agnes, and countless others are the Church’s pride and joy.
The moral is all too obvious. The year 2013 begs us resolve that every day will be a fresh beginning for faithful living. Such is the importance of being earnest in public as well as in private. St. Francis of Assisi used to tell his men to go out preaching, and if necessary, to use words.
The Letter to Diognetus
The remarkable second-century letter, written by one Methetes to a disciple Diognetus, has often been quoted to exemplify the thoughts offered above: “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any merely human doctrine. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.”
They are pilgrims on this earth: at home nowhere and at home everywhere.
The letter continues: “They marry, beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and are restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich. They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet they are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed and persecuted by foreigners, yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”
Mahatma Gandhi compares the scent of a rose to the gospel of Christ and the Christian way of life: “Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the rose. But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose. If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent.”
Despite the grim picture of an unlovely world, the mandate in 2013 is to fructify the garden arraying it with the beauty of holiness. The Creator-Spirit who breathed and brooded over cosmos is the same Spirit who, in every age and with our cooperation makes all things new.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.