Prayer to open ourselves to true life
Before Priests and Deacons and Religious end their evenings, they pray the prayer called Night Prayer or Compline. At the beginning of this prayer, we take a few moments in silence to go over the day and seek pardon for our sins of that day. Some religious groups, such as the Jesuits, make it a point to review their day a couple of times a day. The philosopher, Socrates, is supposed to have said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is quite a powerful claim. Yet, to know ourselves, especially in the light of God’s love and grace, is to open ourselves to true life.
There are many forms of this looking at our day. The most common one is that which was given to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. He urged us to place ourselves in God’s presence, to allow ourselves to be seen by God, becoming aware of his loving gaze upon us and thus to look at ourselves as he sees us. I presume this is so that we will be as honest as we can be with ourselves. Nothing is really hidden from God, so we should be aware of ourselves as well. And, since it is with love that God looks upon us, we too should look gently but honestly at our day.
Then it is good to review the day brieﬂy. Perhaps we can recall the meetings we went to, the people we encountered, the events of our family life, the joys and diﬃculties of the day or perhaps the sheer boredom of part of our day. We might think back to how we handled something well and how we may have blown a situation that we would like to take back or do over. But this is not so much a time for accusing ourselves as it is just to be aware of how our day went and how we traveled through the day. In each moment, then, we are to give thanks. This, of course, is easy for all the things that went well; it is a bit tougher for the trials and mistakes and sins. Yet, even in those moments, as we now present them to God and his mercy, we find in them opportunities to be loved and forgiven and healed; that merits thanks.
Ignatius was really big on being very attentive to your emotions during the course of the day. Ultimately, emotions are windows into our souls. They very often show us more clearly than our thoughts where we are on the right path and where we are heading the wrong way. Since that is not always the case, and since our emotions can also mislead us, it is also an opportunity to ask God to purify our hearts, because there really are times when we love darkness and hate the light. Knowing our emotions can also be a good way for us to develop self-mastery, to harness our passions and direct them the next day toward God’s glory.
Ignatius, then, invites us to focus on one aspect of the day. Here I would simply note that God is always at work in us and for our good. We don’t seem to be aware of that hand in our lives, and this is a good time to try to discern just what God is trying to do in me by letting some particular experience happen during the course of that day. This is not to say that he causes all these experiences, but his providence does let them happen because God knows he can draw good out of them for us. If we are left only with confusion at the end of this brief reﬂection, then we can turn that into a prayer by handing it over to the Lord, who guides our days and our nights. If we gain some clarity about his working in the day in us, then we can say a brief thank you to God the Father. In any case, our reﬂection should lead us to a brief prayer.
Finally, St. Ignatius wants us to look to the very next day, never too far ahead, but to ask the Father for light to see opportunities the next day to give him greater glory, perhaps by avoiding sin, but certainly by doing the good we are called to do.
This brief exercise, or part of it, or something like it, can take as little as five minutes of our time, especially once we get the hang of it. Some of you, like me, might prefer to engage in this activity more in the morning than in the evening. In either case, I encourage you to try to be more reﬂective about your life and thus make it even more worth living.