God's Coming Presence

On December 5th 2015, over 40 young adults gathered in the hall of St. Peter's parish in downtown Toronto for the annual Faith Connections Advent retreat. This year's theme was "An Examen of God's Coming Presence In Your Life." Andrea Scapinello, coordinator of Jesuit Volunteers Canada, introduced the group to Ignatian spirituality through the experiences and prayers of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus.

The group was introduced to two core concepts to Ignatian spirituality Consolation and Desolation. St. Ignatius used these terms to express the movements of the soul towards God (consolation) or away from God (desolation). Andrea was quick to point out how difficult it can be to distinguish the two.

Andrea shared how the cold and wet of bicycling in the winter is often unpleasant in the moment, but striving to live simply as a one-car household and living a more active life is a source of Consolation. Indulging in pride over being "greener" than others would obviously be a source of Desolation - despite not feeling bad in the moment. So if Consolation sometimes feels unpleasant in the moment and Desolation sometimes feels pleasant in the moment, how does one learn to distinguish between Consolation and Desolation?

"St. Ignatius told his followers, if you forget about all the other prayers I have taught you remember the examen", Andrea told us as she introduced us to this vital Ignatian practice. The Daily Examen is a method for reflecting on the day and forming the habit of noticing moments of Consolation and Desolation in our daily lives.

The daily examen has 5 steps:

  1. Recall that you are in the presence of God.
  2. Ask for help from the Holy Spirit.
  3. Review your day.
  4. Ask for pardon and give thanks.
  5. Resolve to listen to God's voice.

The retreatants then took time practice this prayer in silence. Some went to the beautiful St. Peter's church, some took their coats and enjoyed the brisk weather in the small garden between the hall and church, and others stayed in silently in the hall. The first of two prayerful silences descended.

Following the silent prayer, we formed small groups to share what was for many their first experience of the Examen. Each group seemed to develop their own character, some groups sharing quickly becoming sources of spontaneous laughter while others, perhaps still processing their experience, felt more comfortable using the prepared questions to frame their sharing.

The retreatants all received a booklet containing many more details on the Examen as well as Ignatian Gospel Contemplation. If you couldn't make it, a "virtual" version of the retreat has been posted here. And, of course, we hope you can join us next year and at our next event: Andrea will be speaking at Theology on Tap on January 25.

— by Tom Aratyn, a participant in the retreat.