Examining the Examen

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For the majority of the school year, walking through Jesuit during passing period is like walking through a beehive–the tones of minute conversations coalesce into a cacophonic ringing that occasionally spits out words like “teacher” or “test.”

However, anyone taking a stroll down the school halls during Advent or Lent will find that the typical conversational buzz of student chatter has suddenly defined itself around one centralized topic: the Examen prayer.

While every student quickly learns the etiquette and motions of the bi-annual prayer, nobody seems to know its purpose or origins–so why do we pray the Examen?

According to Campus Ministry Director Mr. Don Clarke, the answer to this question lies in the original purpose of the prayer: to stimulate self-reflection and mindfulness.

“There is a movement in our culture to become more mindful, noticing the world around us,” Mr. Clarke said. “The Examen uses that same language to pay attention to what is going on and then going a little farther in asking us to be a person seeking God’s work in the midst of our mindfulness.”

The Examen prayer is an exclusively Ignatian tradition, started by St.Ignatius of Loyola himself during his long convalescence after his disablement by cannonball at the Battle of Pamplona.

As a part of the spiritual exercises, the prayer aims to nurture the spirit– not necessarily the religiousness– of those it touches; thus, its language provides plenty of leeway for individual interpretation.

“Everybody benefits from self-reflection,” priest Fr. JK Adams, S.J. said. “And you can change the language, you can make it just for yourself. I think anybody would be able to see in [their] own lives that there are things that lead them more towards [well-being] than other things.”

Theology teacher Mr. Matthew Schulte firmly believes that the Examen provides his students with a daily opportunity to practice some self-care– no matter whether they’re Catholic or not.

“The Examen is a very central part of Ignatian Spirituality,” Theology teacher Mr. Matthew Schulte said. “And I think that we don’t take enough time to just be in a quiet space and just reflect on how we’re doing, and how our day is going, and the sources of both consolation and desolation in our lives.”

Not only does the Examen prayer give students the chance to check in with themselves in an environment that doesn’t typically encourage rest, it also allows them to enrich the communal bonds of the Jesuit global community by participating in one of its unique customs.

“We have a special way of observing Advent and Lent for the sake of the family,” Fr. Adams said. “We need to have these moments to [bond as a community].”

— Hana Jayaraman