Cultivating Gratitude: The Examen

November 8, 2018

It’s the month of November, and I am sure many of you are hoping to foster an attitude of gratitude this month in preparation for Thanksgiving.  I think November’s focus on gratitude sometimes becomes so cliché, we forget the underlying value of why gratitude matters in the first place.

Cultivating gratitude is a posture that bears many fruits in our lives:

  • It opens our heart to God’s generosity in our lives as we recognize and name the gifts of our life.
  • It pulls us out of selfishness and opens us to be more connected to others.
  • It shifts our minds and hearts to a positive perspective.

St. Ignatius is a teacher of cultivating gratitude in our lives.  A friend of mine boils St. Ignatius’ spirituality down to three key phrases:

  • Be Grateful
  • Be Generous
  • Be Available

Let’s turn for a moment and take a peek at the life-changing moment in Ignatius’ life that helped developed this attitude.

Shortly after his conversion moment, St. Ignatius spends months in the caves of Manresa where he is tormented by his sins.  At one point, God pulled him out of the cave and onto the banks of the Cardoner River.  In his autobiography we read:

While seated there, the eyes of his soul were opened. He did not have any special vision, but his mind was enlightened on many subjects, spiritual and intellectual. So clear was this knowledge that from that day everything appeared to him in a new light.  Such was the abundance of this light in his mind that all the divine helps received, and all the knowledge acquired up to his sixty-second year, were not equal to it. From that day he seemed to be quite another man, and possessed of a new intellect. 

What was Ignatius’ new intellect?

He understood just how precious he was to God.  His obsessive thoughts of sinfulness that had plagued him in the cave never returned.  He experienced an overwhelming gratitude for God’s love.

This experience in the caves of Manresa focused his mission and ultimately his spirituality.  Since then, Ignatian spirituality can find its focus to be telling of God’s love for every person, telling of the gifts that God continually bestows upon us, and finding God in all things.

Ignatius saw God everywhere.  Not just in that moment by the river, but in the people, places, and things he encountered through each ordinary day.  All drew him into greater praise of God.

Prayer Tool:  the Examen

Ignatius offers our church a long lasting prayer tool to cultivate gratitude in our lives:  The Examen.  The value of this prayer is that it helps us pray our lives and notice gifts  It increase our gratitude for the gifts.  It increases our awareness of all the ways God is encountering us each day.

It helps us become more and more aware of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives (Isaiah 61:1) and the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-25: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.

The Examen is simply a review of the last twenty four hours of our day.  We bring the last day before God.

Steps of Examen:

  1. Invite the Holy Spirit to help you see your day as God sees it.
  2. Be thankful.  Name the gifts of your day, and thank God for them.
  3. Notice God’s presence.  Where did you feel an increase of faith, hope and love?
  4. Notice where you felt what seemed like a lack of God’s presence.  Where did you feel a decrease of faith, hope and love?  Why?
  5. Look to the future. Ask God for the grace you need in the day ahead. Close with an Our Father.


Finding it hard to read and follow the steps? Just press play instead. Click here for a guided examen I created for you.


Download a free printable Examen prayer card.


Go Deeper?

Becky is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and writer. She is the author of the Busy Lives and Restless Souls (March 2017, Loyola Press) and The Inner Chapel (April 2020, Loyola Press). She helps others create space to connect faith and everyday life through facilitating retreats and days of reflection, through writing, and through spiritual direction. With nearly twenty years of ministry experience within the Catholic Church, Becky seeks to help others discover God at work in the every day moments of people’s lives by utilizing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the many gifts that our Catholic faith and Ignatian Spirituality provide.

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