As a wife and mother, I have several little routines which have become touchstones through the days, weeks and years. They are practices that are by no means obligatory, nor done out of superstition or any burden, but which rather add a continuity, simplicity and joy to the passing of time. They remind me that no matter what is going on in our busy family life, God is still in charge, and, hopefully, prayerfully, we are walking along His path for that life.
I call these little routines household examens in reference to the prayer practice given to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola: the daily Examen of Conscience, or Consciousness, depending on the Jesuit literature you are reading. This prayer, or method of reflection with God, which the Jesuits employ throughout the day, was designed by St. Ignatius to keep busy people in touch with God and constantly refocused on the pursuit of holiness in the midst of the day’s many and varied activities. The Examen is defined as, “a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us.” There are many different versions of this prayer, but a common acronym for the method is BAKER:
Blessings: begin by thanking God for the blessings of the day, which you go over in your mind
Ask: ask the Holy Spirit to guide you through your day, especially showing any sinfulness, but all movements of your spirit, in His.
Kill: this refers to the truth that our sins killed Jesus. We repent of our sins, and also detach from any sins against us, offer forgiveness and let go.
Embrace: we embrace Jesus’ mercy and love and allow ourselves to be embraced by Him.
Resolve: taking what we have learned by this time of reflection we look ahead to tomorrow and ask for the grace to be more Christlike in it.
Praying it just once per day helps me to truly receive all of the blessings and lessons God has poured into that day, which might otherwise be lost in exhaustion or distraction. “An unexamined life is not worth living,” said Plato. It seems Ignatius would agree.
A small routine consistently practiced has the blessed effect of refocusing a person, or a family, on what is important, on who we are all supposed to be serving. In my little household, I have applied this idea of examen to the routines of life with several mini-liturgies that have evolved organically over time. They are practiced daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, annually or at the time of some special celebration, holiday or landmark occasion. Whenever they are employed, God is present, and the very routine of them can help us to recall and give thanks for His providence in all things.
The Posse on My Dresser
Each time we profess our faith we say that we believe in the Communion of Saints. But how does that translate into our daily lives? We may read an occasional biography or pray a novena, but day to day, do we live in communion with the saints? One way I try to bring down the grace and power of those who have gone before us, and who are waiting to intercede for us, is by praying each morning with the special cadre of saints who seem to have chosen me as one of their projects. Each of the saints that are part of my dresser posse is there for a different intention, a different soul, a different need for grace. Some were chosen as a “Saint of the year” but have hung around considerably longer. Some are recent Blesseds; some are ancient Doctors of the Church. All are represented simply with a prayer card, medal or picture. The point is not to miss out on the grace of this underutilized truth of the faith: we are not alone! Before leaving the house each morning I have a brief prayer meeting with these heavenly friends, committing to them different people and projects, mostly just asking them to pray for me and to help me to do God’s will that day.
We ask our friend and family to pray for us frequently. This is a small way of including the saints in those needs and requests. In this daily prayer I find myself entering into relationship with these holy men and women. When one of those intentions pops up during the day, my mind immediately turns to my heavenly prayer partner for that need, and I send a quick prayer their way. They in turn help me to see all the good God is doing in my life, in my family’s life, through this simple recollected moment at the beginning of each day.
Holy Water Is Not Just for Church!
Every Friday I have a little prayer routine that I cannot recall the origins of. I read in some pious book that the woman of the house should make it a holy habit to bless the house each Friday with prayer and holy water, in Jesus’ name casting out any evil that has entered in and placing all who live and visit under the protection of His Precious Blood. The procedure is simple: I read a written prayer as a “template” then pray spontaneously about areas of special need. After this, I go through the house sprinkling holy water as I praise His Holy Name! The whole thing probably takes five minutes.
This weekly blessing has become a holy habit that I have done for many years now and I have seen its fruits in various ways. Each Friday it serves to orient me towards recollection of our Lord’s Passion and Death, as well as the need to repent of any worldly ways that constantly try to creep into family life. It serves as a type of “housecleaning” for our family’s spiritual life. As I pray, I ask the Lord to reveal any problems that may have come up during the week that I need to take care of or pray about. Many times the Lord has shown me materials that shouldn’t be in our home, lax ways I have fallen into or areas of spiritual neglect. He has also revealed to me the loving pieties of my children or my husband that I might not have noticed without this practice. There are times when I can physically feel a renewed lightness in our home after this practice.
It seems today holy water is an underused sacramental. The simple habit of keeping fonts clean and full in our home, and of frequently blessing ourselves and each other, offers a tiny moment of recollection and grace.
First Saturday “Bath Time”
Life gets busy. Seasons slip into seasons and before you look up, it has been six months since you last took the children to Confession. Children need spiritual formation too! So what is a simple way to give them the gift and the grace of regular reflection, regular Sacramental Confession? We find the best way to do that is by building it into the regular family schedule. Who is the best at keeping a family schedule? Well the Best Mom, of course! Blessed Mother! What more perfect day for taking a “spiritual bath” each month than First Saturday, the day we especially honor and love Mary? On that day, we try to do a more thorough cleaning of our home, and so naturally, we have come to see it as an opportunity to “clean” our souls as well. As an adult, I find I need more frequent “bathing,” but for our children, once per month works well. In this monthly mini-liturgy we get a clean house and a fresh start. Just like many young children fight getting into the bathtub, sometimes our children don’t want to go to Confession. However afterwards, they are always glad they did, grateful for the grace and the peace in their hearts. The peace this brings to the house (afterwards, not before!) is palpable.
Life Is Like … A Bowl of Rocks?
Well, hopefully not, but a bowl of rocks can be a good holy reminder in the home during the season of Lent. Several of the household examens we employ in our home revolve around the liturgical seasons. The simple act of putting away many of our decorations, adding a purple linen to the table, highlighting the Crucifix and, yes, placing a bowl of sand or rocks somewhere visible, can create little moments of recollection in our Lenten days.
The very process of making these décor adjustments is a kind of examen, as it gives us a chance to ponder the previous Lent or the passing of the seasons in general. This longer-term reflection on the passing time can also be afforded by such celebrations as first Sacraments, birthdays, graduation or other milestones. The point is to slow down enough to be present to the times and seasons God gives us, and to hear the words of love He wants to whisper in our ears as we care for our families and our homes.
20 + C + M + B + 18
Is that written in chalk above your front door? If not, it’s not too late! This annual mini-liturgy is one we have happily adopted from Church tradition, and certainly qualifies as a household examen. Each year on the Epiphany, many parishes give their families a wee kit which consists of a piece of chalk, a gold bead and a small cone of incense, all blessed and given with the following instructions:
Gather your family, burn the incense and using the chalk, the current year and the initials of the legendary name of the Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar are marked on the doorway, while a member of the family says, “May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us: and may we seek to serve Christ in everyone we meet.”
In addition to these simple instructions our family adds the singing of “We Three Kings” and our Sunday rosary. This particular tradition, coming at the tail end of the liturgical Christmas season, serves as a beautiful reminder of all that God has done in that time to bring us closer as a family as well as closer to Him. As the Epiphany happens long after the secular world has officially declared Christmas OVER, this blessing also reminds us that we are not of the world, but made to transform it in Christ’s image by our witness. It allows us to savor, one last time, the beauty of the Incarnation (that is, for those of us who don’t wait until the Presentation to take down decorations!).
Through happy times and hard times, in times of stability and times of great family change, these household examens serve to remind us that God is always with us, and that He is faithful in providing the grace we need in all circumstances. These traditions we keep in our houses, in our homes, give our family continuity beyond that house, that building that we live in. They remind us that our God and our family are the constants that remain in an ever changing world, in a pilgrim life.
Looking now at your own family’s routines and traditions, you likely have some household examens already. Thank God for them! Enter them more fully, slowly, receiving God’s grace and His joy through the practice and recollection of mini-liturgies that suit your own family to a “t”. The blessing of these mini-liturgies is not to have more things on your to-do list, but to use what is already there, by God’s grace, to enter more fully into the abundant life He gives.