As the New Year approaches many of us will look forward with hope, convincing ourselves that “next year will be better.” The past year may not have gone exactly as we had wanted and our original “New Year’s Resolutions” may have only endured to the middle of January. Whatever may be the case, we look forward to the future and have a glimmer of hope that our current situation will improve.
While looking forward to what “could be” can keep our spirits up for the moment, a much deeper exercise that provides more nourishment to the soul consists of reviewing the entire year and being thankful for the many blessings (and crosses) that God has given us.
This process allows a person to understand where they are and where God’s actions may be leading them. In other words, it is only in looking back that one can move forward.
One way to reflect on the past year is to make a “Yearly Examen.” This practice is simply an extension of the “Daily Examen” that is a central part of Ignatian Spirituality. The Daily Examen is practice where an individual stops two times during the day (at midday and at the close of the day) to examine God’s activity and to recognize any faults or sins committed.
St. Ignatius divided the Daily Examen into five parts and is often described in this way:
- Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
- Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
- Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
- Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
- Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with the “Our Father.”
This is a beautiful exercise to practice daily and helps you understand how God is working in your life, while also being honest with your own mistakes and failures. It is also a positive way of recognizing your faults while being aware of the love and mercy of God.
Besides making a Daily Examen, one can also look bigger and make a “Yearly Examen” that looks at the major events of the past year, looking forward to what you need to change in the New Year.
Here is how it might look:
- After placing yourself in God’s presence, first give thanks to God for all the many blessings received during the past year. Pass through each month, remembering the blessings that occurred.
- Pray for the grace to understand God’s divine providence.
- Next, review each month again and take notice of any feelings or movements that occur in your heart while doing this activity. Whatever you may feel (whether it was a good feeling or bad feeling), ask God to help you understand why an event happened.
- Fourth, ask pardon for any sins you committed, trusting fully in God’s mercy.
- Last of all look forward to the New Year think of ways that you can collaborate more with God’s loving plan for your life.
If we want to progress in 2017 in any way, we must not forget the past, but learn from it and accept everything that happened in light of God’s divine providence. By doing this, we can better move forward and do so in a spirit of collaboration, realizing that God is the one who is in control. In the end, if we are to remember one thing let us recall the words God said to the prophet Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)