Praying backwards

As I write this article I am on the Charis Seekers’ Retreat at Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham. The Seekers’ Retreat is one of four retreats offered to young adults in their 20s and 30s through the office for campus ministry. 

In my prayer life growing up, I usually resorted to those prayers we say by rote such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, etc. While these are good and valuable to our prayer life, I often found myself just saying the words without much thought. My mind wanders. That’s not good. As one of our team leaders last night stated, in referring to the way we traditionally mark ourselves as Christians, with the Sign of the Cross. “[It] can become a mindless ritual, devoid of meaning. “It is,” she said, “somewhere between swatting a fly and slapping a mosquito. “And so it has sometimes been for me with rote prayer — devoid of meaning and in many cases a mindless ritual. We are, however, called to pray with intention. 

One of the things I appreciate most about our retreats is that they are grounded in Ignatian Spirituality. Throughout the retreat, various opportunities are presented for various forms of prayer. As I result I’ve come to most often utilize one such form of prayer, the Examen.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, believed that the most important prayer of the day was the daily Examen. He suggested that we each take 15 minutes twice a day to look back over the day. There are many ways that the Examen has been modified in the past 450 years. The one that was used today on Seekers’ is this simplified version:

Step one: Invite the Holy Spirit to help you see the day as God sees it. Ask for help in seeing how God was present to you throughout the course of the day. 

Step two: Think about the things you have experienced over the last 24 hours. What stands out? What are you especially grateful for. These are the gifts from God; thank God for these gifts.

Step three: Ask yourself where God seemed to be especially present to you. Pay attention to your feelings. Where did you experience or witness love? Forgiveness? 

Step four: Ask yourself where God seemed to be hidden or even absent. Why do you think that was the case? God is a God of forgiveness. Ask for His forgiveness.

Step five: Finally, think about what you are hopeful for. What are you looking forward to, or what are you not looking forward to today? Offer those things to God. God will accompany you the rest of the day. 

Take a few minutes to pray through the past 24 hours, and toward the next 24 hours, with that five-point format. The more you pray the Examen the more you can make the format your own — what best works for you.

Remember, there is always something to pray about. If you follow this format at least once a day, there is never the question, “What should I talk to God about.” 

Walk through the day backwards, hour-by-hour, from place-to-place, from task-to-task, person-to-person, thanking the Lord for the gift of every encounter. 

You will always have the past 24 hours and the next 24 hours until the day we go home to the Father. 

Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 35 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and a 22-month-old grandson. Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net.

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