Consciousness Examen by George Aschenbrenner, SJ


“The examen must be seen in relationship to discernment of spirits” (166).

  • When examen is related to discernment, it becomes examination of consciousness rather than of conscience (narrow moralistic overtones). In discernment, the prime concern is not with the morality of good or bad actions; rather, the concern is with the way God is affecting and moving us (prior to and more important than our actions) deep within our own affective consciousness (167).

“The examen is an experience in faith of growing sensitivity to the unique, intimately special ways that God’s Spirit has of approaching and calling us” (167). 

  • Examen assumes real value when it becomes a daily experience of confrontation and renewal of our unique spiritual identity and an experience of how God is subtly inviting us to deepen and develop this identity (168).

“The prayerful quality and effectiveness of the examen itself depend upon its relationship to our continuing contemplative prayer… The examen gives our daily contemplative experience of God real bite into all our daily living… an important means of finding God in everything” (168-9).

  • Examen without regular contemplation is futile (169).
  • Contemplation without regular examen becomes compartmentalized, superficial, and stunted in our lives (169).

“The specific exercise of examen is ultimately aimed at developing a heart with a discerning vision to be active not only for one or two quarter-hour periods in a day but continually…The examen is a daily organic expression of the spiritual mood of hearts” (169-170).

  • Pray for this gift
  • Also be receptive to its development in our hearts.
  • Goal is develop a continually discerning heart.



(1) Prayer for Enlightenment

  • To look at God looking at me with love and to see myself as God sees me.
  • Examen is NOT about our memory ability, BUT RATHER about Spirit-guided insight into our lives and courageously responsive sensitivity to God’s call in our hearts. Goal = that the Spirit may help us to see ourselves a bit more as God sees us!

(2) Reflective Thanksgiving

  • To name the concrete, uniquely personal gifts of this most recent part of our day – coming from being more aware of how poor we are and how all is a gift from God.

(3) Practical Survey of Actions

  • NOT about good & bad actions BUT what has been happening to us and in us since the last examen.
  • Discerning the spirits.
  • Presumes a real faith approach to life – that life is first listening, then acting in response.
  • 1st: What are the subtle, intimate, affective ways in which God has been dealing with me during these past few hours?
  • 2nd: How did I respond interiorly to the calling of the Holy Spirit? (rather than the activity itself) –> it’s all about the quality of responsiveness of the activity.
  • Focus: specific details & incidents as they reveal patterns and bring some clarity and insight.
  • Particular examen = a reverently honest, personal meeting with the Holy Spirit in our own hearts. A very personal, honest, and a call to deeper conversion in that one area of our hearts where God is especially calling for conversion.
  • Growing faith sense of our sinfulness is central.

(4) Contrition and Sorrow

  • Based upon the selfish and inadequate responses to God’s work in our hearts, contrition and sorrow is a “faith experience as we grow in our realization of our dear God’s awesome desire that we love with every ounce of our being” (175-6).

(5) Hopeful Resolution for the Future

  • This should grow naturally out of the previous elements.
  • With great hope founded upon God, we face the future with a renewed vision and sensitivity.
  • “I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal” (Phil 3:13).

Examen and Discernment

The Examen becomes our central daily experience of prayer.

(1) The Examen focuses & renews our specific faith identity

  • we develop a test for congruence between any interior impulse, mood, or feeling with our true self in Christ.
  • Interior consonance (peace, joy, contentment) with the immediate interior movement aligned with true self = Good Spirit
  • Interior disonance = bad spirit

(2) The Examen helps us to find God in all things at all times

  • finding God in the present interior movement.
  • by carefully discerning all his interior experiences (“spirits”) every moment of life becomes loving (finding) God in the existential situation in a deep, quiet peace and joy.


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