While it’s easy to think about the Examen as being oriented to the past, this prayer helps us to pay attention to where God is in the past, present, and future. The prayer begins with God in the present: God is with me, here and now as I pray. God is in the past, throughout the day that I have been reviewing. And I can trust that God will also be in my future and pray out of that sensibility. In this way, the Examen always ends with hope.
Thomas Aquinas defined hope as the stretching forth of our desire toward a future good, even if that good is difficult to attain. In other words, hope means choosing to act in ways that lead me closer to what is good and loving, even though the future is often unknown and beyond my control.
Why should we hope, even in the midst of personal struggles and difficulties? Why not succumb to despair when we cannot see our own way out of pain and suffering?
One great reason for hope for the future is recalling how God has been with us in the past. We cannot see into the future and know exactly how God will bring good out of difficulty. However, we can remember when and where God has brought good out of past suffering. This is the centerpiece of the Gospels and the heart of the Christian story: the transformation of the suffering and death of Jesus into the Resurrection and new life. It’s also how God continues to act in our own lives. For example, I can recall how working through marital difficulties later brought my husband and me to a new depth of closeness as we grew in mutual understanding. A friend shared that the loss of his job and six months of unemployment led him to consider a different avenue of work, one that eventually led to much more personal growth than his former job. A broken relationship might not be repaired, but it can open up possibilities for learning about ourselves and others.
We also hope because God is with us, right now, encouraging us to love wherever we are. Hope is an action for today, stretching into tomorrow.
What are your reasons for hope?