Building on Lent: An Examen Prayer for the Easter Season
The purpose of Lent is to heed the Lord’s words in Joel 2:13, “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.” We observe Lent with fasting, prayer, and almsgiving so that we can return to the Lord, who waits for us with arms outstretched and longs for union with us. When we look at Lent this way, it does not make sense to simply abandon whatever practices helped us approach the Lord with less of a barrier between Him and ourselves. I propose an Easter Examen to reflect on your Lenten practices and adapt them to the Easter season, so that the graces received in Lent will continue to bless you and deepen your relationship with God.
What is the Examen?
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order and author of the Spiritual Exercises, believed the Examen was the most important prayer one could say. If there was time for nothing else, he recommended at least spending ten to fifteen minutes praying it each day. The intent of the Examen is to look back through a specific period of time and see where God has been present and where you may have missed His presence. In this way, you become attuned to God’s presence and begin to notice it more frequently in your daily life.
1. Put Yourself in God’s Presence
The first step of the Examen is to become aware that you are in God’s presence. Consider which environments most speak to you of God and go there if you can – whether that be in Eucharistic adoration, a favorite spot in nature, or the privacy of your room. Perhaps you adopt a particular posture of reverence, such as kneeling, or become comfortable in a favorite chair so that you can relax into the prayer. For me, lighting a candle reminds me that the Spirit of God given to the faithful at Pentecost is present with me. Once aware of God’s presence, ask God to gift you with His view of your Lent. Ask for light to see with clarity where God has been moving and where you have welcomed or resisted His movements.
2. Give Thanks for the Graces of Lent
You are not the same person now at Easter that you were at the start of Lent. Thank God for the ways in which your heart has been stretched, opened, and molded to be more like Jesus’ Heart. Let gratitude overwhelm you as you consider how God has loved you through these past weeks and blessed your efforts at prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Consider specific people through which God blessed you this Lent. Name any moments where His presence was powerfully felt and offer a heartfelt thanks. In the Easter season, you might consider this as offering thanks for moments where the Resurrected Christ showed His face to you.
3. Review the Highlights of Lent
Now, with God’s help, review your Lent as a whole, viewing without judgment any memories that God brings to the surface. Pay particular attention to the feelings attached to these memories. In the feelings that surface, God surely has a message for you about your Lent. Bring them honestly to God and ask for His wisdom and understanding about the highs and lows of your Lenten season. These feelings will give you a clue for where growth occurred and where you might still need to focus your prayer practices to allow for continued growth in the Easter season.
4. Make Amends Where Needed
In your review of Lent, you may discover areas where you failed to respond to God or responded in a way that does not reflect your desire for relationship with Him. Perhaps the commitments you made for Lent were abandoned at some point. God understands the human struggle with sin, and we should not be afraid to come to Him in our weakness and woundedness and ask for healing. Coming out of Lent, you could picture this step as acknowledging ways in which you contributed to the suffering of Christ in those around you. Ask for forgiveness of God and consider whether you need to ask forgiveness of someone else. If asking for forgiveness is not possible, prayerfully invite God to suggest how you may otherwise make amends – perhaps offering additional prayers for that person or dedicating a specific sacrifice for them.
5. Look Ahead to Easter and Ask for Grace
Now that you’re reviewed your Lent, thanked God for the graces, and asked forgiveness for your shortcomings, ask God for a specific grace for the Easter season. Which practices adopted in Lent can be taken with you into Easter to continue the growth God started there? For example, if you gave up social media for Lent, do not log back in with the same frequency you had before Lent, but instead reintroduce it gradually (or not at all, if you feel called to remain with that practice). Or perhaps you added daily Mass to your routine. Why not continue a practice that brought you closer to God and helped break down a barrier in your relationship with Him and/or others? This time, rather than adopted as a return to God, it will serve as an opportunity to commune with One who loves you and who you have grown to love more in this season. Ask for the grace of joy in the Resurrection and let God surprise you!
Taking the Examen into Easter
Adding the Examen to your prayer routine is a wonderful way to help you recognize and name specific graces God is offering to you. At Easter we make the bold claim that God has kept His promise of victory over death, His promise of new life. How is God living out that promise in your life? How is He resurrecting you? Where has the Risen Christ been walking with you? The Examen can help you notice the Risen Jesus’ presence in your daily life.