I came across a wonderful review of a biography of St. Jose Maria Escriva by Pilar Urbano, and was delighted to learn it's been recently translated into English. Will have to check it out.
By coincidence (or God-incidence) I was well enough to go to an Opus Dei meeting for the first time. My husband has gone thrice over the past two years with the men and he encouraged me to go to the women's circle. I don't really like group activities and was quite content to read the saints and work on my spiritual life with their guidance in the comfort of my home. But an invitation issued this fall and my heart stirred. Alas, poor health prevented me from going, until now.
And what a blessing! I know each of the women individually, some better than others, so no introductions were necessary. In fact, they've all been praying and sacrificing for me. My heart swelled with gratitude. And I think how good it is to be able to work on your spiritual life with people who talk back to you :) And so, I'd like to share my notes, especially if you are homebound for any reason -- illness, small children, introversion.
We began with a short prayer and the Gospel reading for the day (Mt 11:28-30): Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” This is a favorite of mine perhaps because I long to rest in His arms. However, our leader focused on being meek and humble as a prelude to the examination of conscience.
The examen should be a daily task to reflect in the presence of God how we've been pleasing to Him and how we've offended Him. We're talking about the little things here regarding our daily duties, our relationship with God and family and other people. But in focusing on the little things, we can begin to ask the bigger questions: Why am I here? How can I give glory to God?
The examen requires a spirit of humility so that we can see what we need to improve in our lives, instead of criticizing others. It means I need to stop telling my kids that they're making me lose my temper. LOL. I need to develop more patience. It requires a spirit of discernment to know what God would have you do so that you can follow His Divine will.
The worst enemy here is pride. When we're prideful, we see ourselves as we wish to be seen, not as we truly are. Know yourself. Acknowledge that you're a sinner. I should mention right now that the Jubilee year of Mercy has begun, but one should understand that the reason we need mercy is because we are sinners.
St. Jose Maria Escriva said to bring a "savage sincerity" to your examen. I love this kind of honesty. It is the path to change. It allows you to go deeper, to the root cause of your defects so that you can uproot, burn off, or throw them away.
Have true sorrow for your sins. It's not just a feeling but an act of the will so that you can resolve to do something to rectify your defects.
Don't get discouraged. That's a sign of pride as well, wanting everything to be perfect. Of course you will fall. Proverbs 24:16 say: For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.
Give thanks to God for everything, beg pardon, and ask for help for the next day.
Some obstacles to the examen: laziness, fatigue, routine, scrupulosity, the devil.
I've never had someone point this out to me before, but the general examen is a defense, like an armor, whereas the particular examen is like a sword. You go on the offense. In the particular examen, you try to work on developing a small virtue (ex. being punctual) and try to get rid of a small defect (ex. wasting time). I highly recommend St. Alphonsus's Twelve Steps to Holiness for this. I could read this year after year.
I am so glad this lesson on examination of conscience came at this time. Advent is penitential season and it fits perfectly with doing some of the spiritual work to prepare our hearts for Christ.