By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ
There is difference between 15 years of experience and one year experience repeated 15 times. The difference is that in one, we grow in knowledge of what is better and more efficacious. In the other there is no progress. With reflection we become better. If we make 10 to 10 minutes reflection every day, we would be better off and reach our objectives faster. Ignatius of Loyola formalized this into five steps. His presuppositions were that he was writing for a man of faith in Jesus.
The first step is thanksgiving. We thank the Lord that we woke up this morning to another day. We must be thankful to the Lord as we move forward in our objective of happiness in this world and in the next. This step is one of thankfulness for the many gifts we enjoy.
The second step is a petition to the Lord of mercies: That we may see things more and more the way God sees them.
The third step is for us to review what has happened since our last reflection. Here there are two reviews: One in general and the second in particular. Making a general review is useful but is only good when we look at some details that progress occurs. It is like a movie reel that we review of the past 24 hours. After the general review we choose some particular fault that we want to eliminate or one particular virtue that we want to acquire. We then focus on this fault and count how many times we committed this fault during the past 24 hours and jot it down on a piece of paper. Or how many times we practiced that virtue during the past day and jot it down. We then compare it with previous days. We stay on this fault or virtue only for about two weeks and move on to some other fault or virtue. We can come back to this fault or virtue at some other time.
The fourth step is to think of how my day ought to have been. It is like being on a shooting range and we take a look at the target and aim. At this point the tantum quantum of Ignatius is used. It means that insofar as is necessary and only insofar as needed do we resolve to act. (This is often shortened to TQ or in so far as.)
The fifth step is taking action. We fire. Without a resulting action taken or to be taken there is no use for the reflection. Reflection is not difficult especially at the beginning. What is hard is consistency of doing it and jotting down the counting in the particular reflection. Great men have been formed in this system of reflection. Also happier men have been the result of this reflection system: Happier in this world and in the next. Fifteen minutes or less a day is not much to ask for. It can have wonderful results.
Ignatius insisted on prayer for we all need to acknowledge our dependence on God and the need for His help. But he was more insistent on reflection done by his friends and followers. Also reflection can be considered a form of prayer. This is especially true if we consider its main step is one of gratitude of the ordinary things that we receive every day from the Almighty. There are so many things we take for granted like the rising of the sun and the air we breathe and the food that we take. We often take for granted the working of our body: The circulation of our blood, the pumping of our heart, the movement of our muscles as we walk and the working of our brains.
Can we do this reflection (or examen) every day until we become happier men? It is not too difficult in the beginning but becomes burdensome after the year go by. But it pays to do this reflection of our day every day. I should produce the miracle of making us happier men here now and in the net life.