Few saints I think of are better companions into Lent than Ignatius of Loyola. His spirituality is tailor-made for a serious lay person. I find he balances a certain rigor with a realization that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, and every so often it is good to lighten up. If not with humor, but with prudent good sense.
Lent seems suitable for rigor balanced with not taking ourselves too seriously. The focus, after all, is on Christ, and his pathway to Jerusalem.
Ignatius counseled those he directed to practice the Examen twice daily. Once, at minimum.
The five steps of the Examen is a good spiritual practice for once or twice a day. There are may variations, and any Ignatian site of significance will probably mention several. Joseph Tetlow offered one two years ago for Ash Wednesday in this post:
- Give Thanks. I thank God for this day, for my life, for all I am and have, and for His Word.
- Pray for Light. I ask the Father to let me see my day as the Holy Spirit sees it, and to show me what I need to see.
- Find God. I look at my day in the light of the Spirit. What I have done? Did I do what I had planned? What happened that wasn’t planned? How did I respond? What did my heart tell me?
- Anything Wrong? Have I been anxious? Sad? Focused on myself? Does something in a relationship need to be addressed? Have I been ungrateful?
- What Now? What do I need from God today? What do I need to do today? Tomorrow?
I think Ash Wednesday offers a great time to begin the practice of a daily Examen. Take today and a few days to get into the pattern of it. Persistence plus a full Lenten season, and the habit will be well-ingrained.
If I were to choose one “positive” thing to add to my life (instead of or in addition to giving something up) I would strive to do a daily Examen.
And even if not, the Examen is a good way to end an Ash Wednesday. This post just gets you ready for tonight’s pep talk from the Lord.