One of the great blessings of my Catholic formation has been the exposure to various traditions within the Faith. In my undergraduate studies at Providence College, I learned about the Dominican tradition of preaching, teaching, and doctrinal study. In my graduate studies at Boston College, I was exposed to the Jesuit commitment to contemplative action and service. Here at Saint Benedict Classical Academy I have seen the Benedictine praise of God through both scripture and tradition. Each approach to the spiritual life has been helpful in unlocking a new layer of the rich tradition of our Catholic Faith. In my role as fifth grade teacher, I have sought to bring these unique traditions to my students to help expand their access to the deeply personal relationship God wants with each of us. When we find the access point that works for us, our Faith flourishes.
This year, I have done so by introducing my students to the Ignatian Examen. The Examen is a form of an Examination of Conscience, developed by Saint Ignatius, and prayed daily by countless Catholics. The Examen’s reflection for the day has a unique formula. The five basic steps are:
- Place yourself in God’s presence
- Ask for the grace to honestly reflect upon your day
- Review your day, piece by piece, just noticing what happened
- Reflect on pieces of your day that stand out, thanking God for His blessings throughout the day
- Ask for God’s help tomorrow
In fifth grade, we enter the Chapel on campus twice a week at the end of the day and pray the Ignatian Examen together. The teacher will lead the reflections, and teachers and students alike will quietly and contemplatively reflect upon their day. It is a beautiful witness to faith in action as we all try to become more aware of God’s presence in all things great and small (as the Jesuits would say). I asked the students to write their reactions after having practiced this prayer for a few months. One student wrote, “I love this prayer because two times a week we get to stay in the chapel and take a couple of minutes to go through my day and try better tomorrow.” Another student explained, “The Examen has really helped me to quiet my mind down so I can put myself at ease when I go through the day to reflect on it.” A third student stated, “What I like about this prayer is that it focuses on where God was in the day.” A final student wrote they have brought this prayer home, saying, “Praying the Examen has helped me improve how I pray in my life at home. I used to just ask God for forgiveness but the Examen has helped me change most of that into gratitude for what God does for me, and when I think about it I have so many things to be grateful for that my life is not long enough to thank God for everything.” The faith of these children is inspiring and humbling. Let us all strive to “become like little children” (Matthew 18:3) that we may gaze with awe upon the work of God in our own life.