In last month´s blog post I introduced you to the “examen prayer” adapted for teens so that you could use it in your youth ministry, CCD, or home. In this blog I present you with concrete tips, questions and responses for each step of the examen prayer, along with videos that may help.
Beginning and Concluding the Examen Prayer
It´s good to do a simple transition into and out of the exam. If it´s the first time you´re praying it with a specific group, then briefly explain how it´s done and motivate the teens to try it.
To end, Ignatius recommends an Our Father or other simple prayer. If you are doing the examen prayer at night before going to bed, then you could dismiss the group to bed right afterwards.
In short, the basic idea is that we all tend to like transitions into and out of prayer, especially if it´s structured prayer.
Step 1: Thanksgiving
The first step is all about identifying reasons to thank God. These may be specific activities, new friends they made, food they liked, games they played, etc. It needs to be specific, concrete. Gratitude keeps us humble since we recognize the author of all good things is God, hence inviting God to send us more blessings and graces!
Some example prayers are:
- Thank you Lord for a great day, especially for my friends.
- Thank you Jesus for teaching me a little bit more about You.
- Thank you dear God for bringing me to this retreat.
Step 2: Petition
The second step is simply praying for deeper insight into God´s working in the soul. One should ask for light, strength, clarity, humility, sincerity, a desire to change, contrition of heart, repentance…etc. One should ask God to remove whatever may be blocking grace in one´s life. The point of this step is to prepare the soul even more so as to be able to see oneself sincerely, honestly…in fact, as God does.
Some example prayers are:
- Lord, help me to see myself always as You see me.
- Dear Father, I know that you are a loving father and have something to tell me tonight. Help me listen to You.
- Come Holy Spirit and fill me with your grace and light so I can know myself better.
- Lord Jesus, I ask you for the grace to be humble so that I can accept your loving will.
Step 3: Review
In step three, you review sentiments, attitudes, good actions, acts of charity, lights, ideas, spiritual desires, etc. This is the step when teens need to see where God was present in their day. This is an important step because it reminds us that the spiritual life is not only about what I do for God, but what God does for me and in me.
Ignatius recommends reviewing which thoughts are from God, and which are not. To make things simple for teens, I recommend in step 3 reviewing one´s closeness to God and in step 4 reviewing one´s distance from God.
Some good questions they can ask themselves are:
- When did I feel close to God?
- What good things did I do (for others or for God)?
- What did I learn about God?
- What did I say to God?
- Do I want to be close to God?
Some examples are:
- Lord, I felt really close to you today in adoration. I felt that you were really present.
- Dear God, today I held the door open for someone and I shared the ball during dodgeball, and I did this for You.
- Jesus, I understood a little better today all the suffering You undertook for me.
- Lord, today I told You that I always want to be Your friend.
- Lord Jesus, I´m happy because I feel like I want to be close to You and learn to pray.
Step 4: Forgiveness
Step four is about forgiveness. The Lord rejoices in this part because He is the God of mercy and compassion, which He is always ready to give out freely. This is the 4th step because:
- (step 1) for Ignatius God´s love for the person is always the foundation, the first consideration, for all else,
- (step 2) in the life of prayer it is also important to ask for the Holy Spirit´s enlightenment,
- (step 3) noticing how close God is to me helps me be more at ease with my shortcomings, and,
- it´s good to see how I´ve failed God (step 4) just before I make a resolution (in step 5).
To make things simple for teens, it´s simply the opposite of step three. In this step, teens need to identify sins, shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, bad attitudes during the day, sour or bitter reactions to different experiences, et cetera. They also identify if they´ve kept their resolution from the last exam. Keep in mind this step is much more personal and may be more embarrassing and shameful. So we need to take a longer look at this step.
In general, they can answer these questions:
- Did I fulfill my resolution from the last exam? (Did I make one? Do I remember it?)
- When did I feel far away from God?
- What sins did I do today?
- Did I feel sad? Anxious? Distracted?
- What could I have done better?
In the private prayer of the exam, people mention their actual sins to God, who sees all things. In public, as in a retreat or camp, teens should speak in general terms, for example:
- I´m sorry for a sin I know I did today.
- Lord, forgive me for you know what I did.
- Sorry Jesus, I could have done better in something.
- Dear God, forgive me for being a little sad at some points during the day.
This is the case unless the sin is either really small, or they want to ask forgiveness to someone specific in the group, for example:
- I´d like to apologize to Lauren for making fun of her.
- I´m sorry I wasn´t listening during the talk today.
- I could have put more effort in the group activity. Sorry Jesus.
Lastly, if you dedicate one of the nights to a “confession night” or something similar, then perhaps you can skip over the fourth step since they have already confessed their sins to God.
Step 5: Renewal
At this point in the examen, we´ve mostly looked back. This is so that we can look forward. This last step provides the person with space to look for creative resolutions and hence is the the very “cutting edge” of spiritual growth for the next day.
Some example resolutions are:
- Lord, tomorrow I promise to pay attention during all the talks.
- Dear God, give me the grace to pray well during adoration.
- Jesus, help me get along with the group.
Though resolutions can tend to be general, it´s better if they can be specific. It´s likely more effective to say “I will not run around during lunch” than to say “I´ll be good tomorrow”. However, besides reminding teens to be specific, you can let them decide their own resolutions.
Now that your group has made good resolutions, you´re ready to continue strong with your event!
Using Videos for your Examen Prayer
Using videos can be an excellent complement while praying the examen! The music and the images capture the attention of the teens. Videos can range from 3 minutes to 10 minutes. They go through questions that teens can reflect on, and these questions usually follow the 10 Commandments. Lastly, and very importantly, these videos are very good for teaching teens which actions, thoughts, and attitudes, are sinful!
The downside of videos is that group participation diminishes and the group is not enriched from others´ input. Also, videos usually concentrate on step 4, one’s distance from God due to sin. Therefore, they make good examens before the group goes to confession, for example. However, these videos rarely focus on the other 4 steps: gratitude, petition, review of God´s action, and resolution.
Here is a list of good videos I found that you can use for your events:
- Examination of Conscience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0c1Hv15kn4 (8:56)
- Examination of Conscience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3lpqD-vRGs (4:34)
- Examination of Conscience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knythsg_NLE&index=6&list=PLeTUeyn-sQaUBfHplHfxuM5F0NeQpeMey (6:02)
- Lord I need you – teen examen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1zlQMiCCSk&list=PLh3GgJdNF0eGiqVKZGx0cyYpCZskwSEF0&index=14 (3:21)
- Examination of Conscience for High School Students https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zl4ahf82MKI (3:55)
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