Home » Spiritual Direction » There is a reason we need Examen

There is a reason we need Examen



“For want of contrition, innumerable Confessions are either sacrilegious or invalid; the penitent so often breaks his promises to God, and falls again so easily into the same faults, and many souls are eternally lost. Contrition is that true and lively sorrow which the soul has for all the sins it has committed, with a firm determination never to commit them any more . . . Many Christians spend a long time in examining their consciences, and in making long and often unnecessary narrations to the confessor, and then bestow little or no time upon considering the malice of their sins, and upon bewailing and detesting them. Christians such as these, says St. Gregory, act like a wounded man who shows his wounds to the doctor with the utmost anxiety and care, and then will not make use of the remedies prescribed. It is not so much thinking, nor so much speaking of your sins that will procure their pardon, but heartfelt sorrow and detestation of them.”
— Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, p. 289

It is never fun to have someone trying to manipulate your emotions be it either out of ignorance or of malice. Perhaps the person thinks they are trying to “help” the person. Perhaps their motive is guided by a different spirit. Only God knows and judges the human heart.  I have learned that the best way to deal with a person who is acting in this manner, projecting their own darkness on others, is to avoid them. Toxic people can make you sick as well.

It is so true of what Ignatius says about the acts of our sinful nature. Contrition, true contrition should lead one to be more aware of the harm there actions have done and they should be more willing to take the right actions of penance. These acts of penance should not make of religious Schadenfreude, but of a true understanding and confession (even apology) for what they have done.

As a spiritual director I am very aware of how the enemy uses misdirection and self-deception to lead a weakened, devoted person to believing their bad is good and their good is bad. It is a hard thing to watch, but often there is nothing that can be done.  As Ignatius states, their wounded state has become so a part of them that they will not do what they need to do to escape it.  In fact, they use their weakness, there hostility, they illness and their transference issues to get attention or pity or to use as an excuse for why they behave the way they do.

A true prayer of examen with the help of a spiritual director can help a person move from the sacrilegious or invalid nature in their confession to allowing God to being the contrition and penance that helps real produce real spiritual health.

It is never easy, as stated above, to be someone else’s spiritual punching bag. Some times we can avoid it, some times we cannot. Sadly, such actions are seen more and more frequently in churches. So there are more conflicts, more people leaving the church due to such toxic individuals’ behaviors. When in such a state, it is best to just be aware of what the person is saying in the light of why it is said. Do not let their toxic personal poison sink into your own heart. Do not get into discussions with them, just be polite ignoring what is said and leave as soon is you can. Focus instead on your own reflections and actions. Learn from the Holy Spirit. Give the Spirit access to your mind and heart. Let the Spirit bring forth the things you need to correct and the things you need to cherish. This is the path of the examen.

I have listed the following quotes that have been helpful to me. I hope they will be helpful to you as well.

“You change your life by changing your heart.”
— St. Benedict of Nursia

“There is nothing the devil fears so much, or so much tries to hinder, as prayer.”
— St. Philip Neri

“Prayer is the duty of every moment. We ought always to pray, said our Lord. And what He said, He did; therein lay His great power. Action accompanied His words and corresponded with them. We must pray always in order to be on our guard. Our life, both of body and soul, our natural and supernatural life, is like a fragile flower. We live surrounded by enemies. Ever since man rejected the Light that was meant to show him the way, everything has become for us an obstacle and a danger; we live in the shadow of death.”
— Dom Augustin Guillerand

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”
— St. John of the Cross

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