This last episode of Three Minute Ministry Mentor explored vocational discernment. This week we consider a spiritual practice which is valuable for the big questions of life as well as the daily practices of knowing which way to go and how to get there.
Examen invites us to test our experiences and our plans in the practice of ministry for how they bring consolation or desolation, giving us hints about how to move forward. Examen is also a useful spiritual approach to exploring the value of our mentoring relationships.
Ignatius of Loyola
Over five hundred years ago a young man named Ignatius (1491-1556) was born into a wealthy noble family in Spain. He became a knight and in 1521 was sent off to war. Ignatius was injured with a cannonball, and he had to return home to the Basque region of Spain to recover.
As he recuperated in the months that followed, he had little else to do (no facebook, twitter or Netflix) so he read. The Bible and books about Christian saints filled most of his time. He began to wonder seriously what his life was about.
As Ignatius grew more physically well, he ventured out and devoted himself to a vocation of prayer and discernment. After seeing a vision of the Mary and Jesus in 1522, he began to pray and write intensely, and in 1523 he wrote the foundation of “The Spiritual Exercises.”
This book continues to shape the spirituality of priests, religious leaders and lay people particularly through the exercise of examen. After theological study in Spain and France, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1539. The Jesuits continue to lead, teach and hold tremendous influence in church and society in many places in the world.
Examen is a form of spiritual exercise. It invites the exploration of scriptures and any portion of one’s life through guided questions. In this way, examen is a tried and proven pathway for discernment. It allows us to look back to times and events of our everyday lives and ask questions that help us notice the presence and guidance of God’s spirit. Knowing what brings consolation or desolation helps us see a way forward that honors our learning and God’s wisdom.
Here are some descriptions of consolation and desolation from Ignatius:
OF SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator … when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord … Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.
OF SPIRITUAL DESOLATION. I call desolation all the contrary of [consolation]… disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from [the] Creator and Lord.
Examen for the Practice of Ministry
There are a million questions that rise up in the course of learning the practice of ministry. Among them are the big questions of vocational discernment: What should I do? Where should I turn? How do I know which way to go at this point in pursuing my call?
There are also the questions of the daily minutia of ministry that also deserve careful and prayerful attention. Practicing the examen and considering what brings consolation and desolation can become a spiritual habit that informs your leadership in ministry and assists you in questions large and small.
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