First Phase: Reforming




Oh, wounded hearts,

Oh, loving souls

Who yearn for Christ;

Come to him.


Come to the waters

Freely bestowed

By the Father and Mother

Of life

Our hope.


Warmly receive what is

Warmly given

In community, in peace

In quiet.


Sure the storm rages;

Sure the clash.

Sure the shattering.

More surely does it flow

Towards oblivion.


Leaving peace,

Silent soothing

Hands smoothing

Disturbed thoughts

And shaking bodies.


Christ our sign

Christ our given

Peace our goal

Life worth living

Here and evermore


(John    8/21/02)



24-44.   Introduction


The aim of this First Phase[1] is to bring the companions to reform their life through a sort of existential diagnosis of sinful and unauthentic tendencies, to discover their place in the history of salvation, and to experience the need for healing and redemption.

We will begin the First Phase with the presentation of the “Particular Examen”, which aims to change one particular feature then we will introduce the “Daily Examination of Consciousness”, a prayerful review of one day and finally the “General Examination of Conscience”. This last method is called examination of “conscience” because it is a review of one’s actions from a moral point of view, reflecting upon one’s responsibility and looking at one’s sins and weaknesses in preparation for repentance in contrast with the examination of “consciousness” which does not focuses on morality even if sins will emerge during the review of the day. “Consciousness” as Bernard Tyrrell describes it “is not bending back upon oneself in reflection, but a simple internal experience of oneself and one’s activities of sensing, feeling, thinking, judging, reflecting, deciding and acting”[2]. The companions will use these methods from now on during the Exercises. After it they might consider to keep them as part of their spiritual life. Our introduction will end with notes about how to move onto the exercises of the First Phase.

Particular Examen


This simple method or technique is a kind of self-education with the help of God’s grace, in which we are asking for obtaining a specific change in our life. This change might consist of freeing ourselves from a bad habit or trying to acquire a new, better one. The value of this method can be confirmed by similarity to such therapies as Alcoholics Anonymous[3] and lies in stressing on a “one day at a time”.

The Particular examen consists of three moments and begins every day in the morning at rising, when we briefly remind ourselves of the goal we try to achieve and ask God’s help to us. The second moment when we look at our progress is sometimes around noon or in the middle of our day. In a short prayer we recall what we want to achieve thank God and ask his help again for this goal and to know ourselves better. Then we review our day hour by hour from the morning till this examination and how we lived this time; what was good and what went wrong. This will require one or two minutes from us. After it we spend a little time in thankful prayer with God. We repeat the same examination and prayer also at night before going to bed, this time reviewing our whole day.

Note: Some might find it helpful to keep a kind of record of these prayers of examen. Such record can show over a period what was going on in our life and help to see the progress day by day in achieving our goal. If someone likes diagrams they might draw a line for each day and sign with dots or otherwise the occasions of falling back into the bad habit or of the successful moments with the new marks, so making visible the progress. Others might feel such method too mechanical and do better without.

An interesting fact about the Particular examen is that Benjamin Franklin in The Autobiography describes a strikingly similar technique he devised to achieve “moral perfection” As far as it goes Franklin surely did not know St. Ignatius’ work and we can suppose he discovered the method independently. He writes so: “…I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into…. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.” [4]. Then he made a list of virtues and tried to achieve all of these: “My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time”[5]. Interestingly enough, Benjamin Franklin devised also a recording method similar to the one proposed by Ignatius[6], with lines and dots. However, Benjamin Franklin practiced the examen in order of self-improvement not in a context of faith and prayer, not necessarily aiming to deepen his relation to God through it.


Daily Examination of Consciousness


The Daily Examination of Consciousness (called sometimes also as the Awareness Examen) is the most important form of prayer[7] of the Ignatian spirituality. If the companions would not bring with them anything else from these Exercises, or they would need to choose only one thing to learn, this alone would be worthwhile, as a powerful means for anybody trying to live a spiritual life, or simply to grow in self-knowledge. The importance of this examination of consciousness is even more evident during the Exercises in the everyday life, when through this method the companions can get in touch with the spiritual happenings during their usually busy days and recognize God’s presence and inspirations right there in the middle of their occupations. So the reality of life is not seen anymore as an obstacle of prayer or to spiritual life, but exactly the place and means to grow in spirit and wisdom of self-knowledge, to develop a spiritual sensitivity toward the directions things tend to bring us and to see our reactions and responses to what life poses in front of us as questions or dilemmas. The daily examination of consciousness is an excellent and necessary means to learn the discernment process and live a discerning life, and to “find God in all things” which is the main purpose of the Exercises, and the “perfection” for St. Ignatius who gave this definition to it:

“The perfect, due to constant contemplation and the enlightenment of the understanding, consider, meditate, and ponder more that God our Lord is in every creature by His essence, power and presence” [39]

The stress in this practice is never on some sort of result, but on the prayer, on the loving relationship with God whom we actually believe to be present in our days in a special manner. So we want to share with him how we feel about ourselves and about the events of the day. We thank him for every good thing that happened to us or what we were able to accomplish and ask his healing or forgiveness where we recognize the need for it. This prayer is about our relationship with God lived during our day, not a search for faults or sins. We see how God worked for us, gave us life, healed and helped us through the events of the day. We become aware his presence deep in our heart, in our feelings, thoughts and desires, we see his work in the creation, in all things surrounding us. We begin to reflect upon our experiences and understand how we are used to do things, what emotions and reactions are typical to us in certain situations, what makes us feel well, full of hope and joy, and what causes sadness, anger or similar feelings and reflect upon their meaning. The goal of this examination is to help us in discernment, not simply to see where we failed; however, if there was a sin, it will emerge from the stream of consciousness, “stick out as a sour thumb” with a fortunate expression somebody used for it.

A framework of five steps might help the Daily Examination of Conscience. These five steps are not a theoretical construction, but reflected experience; they are the successive moments of any personal loving relationship. However, it is not a necessary requirement to use these steps, but it can make it a lot easier to learn and use it. These steps are the following:


1.               Recognize the presence of God. A gesture, a sign of cross, or a moment of silence in front of the place where we will do the examination might express this.

2.               Ask the help of the Holy Spirit to be able to see our life, recognize all the gifts we receive and be grateful for these. Express our gratefulness for the gifts of God in our day.

3.               Review with the help of the Holy Spirit the “anamnesis” of the day. This part is the essence of the prayer, the experiential part when we simply allow our consciousness to bring forth spontaneously memories from the beginning of the day until the time of the examination. Most usual time for it is the evening, but it is possible to do in the morning, reviewing the precedent day.

4.               Reconciliation. In the review of the day necessarily we will see also our shortcomings and this moment gives occasion to reconcile and to ask forgiveness in a simple way.

5.               Resolution. We arrive to resolution about going on trusting God, loving and searching what is good. We used to do this step by our favorite prayer to the Holy Spirit; I (John) found a copy of it in a church about 1978 and have said it daily since. Cardinal Mercier (don't know anything about him) said that if you say this prayer, life would be serene and consolation abound even in the midst of troubles:


Oh, Holy Spirit, soul of our souls, we adore you.

Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console us.

Tell us what we ought to do

and command us to do it.

We promise to be submissive in everything

that you permit to happen to us,

only show us what is Your will.


Let us end with some important notes regarding the Examen of consciousness.

- The companions who do the Exercises together need to decide whether they want common or individual examination of consciousness. Both possibilities have advantages and disadvantages. Individual examination underlines the unique relation of each person with God, while the common form might be helpful to know each other better. We preferred for ourselves the individual form, since it gives a certain freedom and as we are used to share almost all other prayer times this gives us opportunity for personal prayer time, too. So we do the prayer together in the same time but don’t share how it went.

- We need to underline again the spontaneous character of this letting the contents of the background consciousness to emerge relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit; this is not a sort of wrestling out the repressed memories as in the psychoanalytic scheme[8].

- We want to note the similarity between the examination of consciousness and the stages in the healing and education of feelings in Christotherapy and in a special manner the fifth stage that “involves a prayerful focusing of attention on the objects which evoke one’s specific feeling responses and a detecting in one’s consciousness of the images, attitudes, fantasies, thoughts which mediate and to a greater or lesser degree determine one’s feeling responses to given objects”[9]. This prayerful focusing of attention will touch all the levels of consciousness, it will extend to the reality of “automatic” thoughts and images which occur in the background of consciousness, the sphere of experiences Bernard Tyrrell defines as “twilight consciousness”; but it will embrace also the peak level, the God-inspired thoughts, acts and the “super-consciousness”, the very high and intense consciousness of mystical experiences[10]. The main purpose of the examen of consciousness is to prepare and aid the discernment process, and similarly, the next stages in the healing and education of feelings is the discernment or diagnosis of one’s feelings and finally to arrive to a positive decision to live according the precedent discernment. Indeed, we think that the examination of consciousness in itself is an excellent means of psycho-spiritual and moral healing.

- We see how often emotions or feelings are guiding, or determining our actions -and this is not too good. When trying to not let the guidance be left to the feelings I (Kris) find helpful a little “exercise”. It is: to recognize the emerging emotions, giving them time to evolve, and when identified, giving them the proper name: this is anger, fear, joy etc. Not to try to oppress, deny, or hide any of the emotions, they then continue working, and maybe being harmful. When I know it, I will be able to have a distance from that feeling, detach from it and be free to use my will in guiding my actions.

A little bit this exercise makes me remember on one method in the Psychosynthesis experience, called “disidentification”: one lets his/her feelings or thoughts emerge (maybe regarding a special record or person) and then tell “this is my feeling, but I am more then my feelings, my thoughts” etc. until arriving to the true identity of the person, which integrates and also transcends his/her body, mind and soul[11].

The freedom gained from the feelings is in the line of the freedom placed in front of us in the Principle and Foundation [23]. It does not mean to be without feelings, but the freedom from the excessive influence of these, for a good discernment and decision-making, for the more and more authentic service of God. Also, we can think of Jesus, who casting out the evil spirits asked their name, and when they told it, they lost the influence on that person. Maybe this fact can be adapted on our "bad feelings", if we can recognize, identify them, and already they loose their harmful influence on our lives. The companions might try out fruitfully this little exercise at this point.


General Examination of Conscience


As we told earlier, this Examination is a review of a person’s actions in the light of one’s “conscience” to see whether these were in harmony with one’s upheld and confessed values; that is, if one’s acts in thought, word, or deed were right or sinful, as a preparation for repentance. Still we are at the introductory part of the First Phase and as the material of the meditations throughout this Phase will have to do with the notion of sin some initial thoughts might be useful in this direction, since the reality of sin is a bit confusional in our age. On one side it seems like sin is fading away, and even many practicing believers are not sure about what is sin and what is not. With the popularization of psychology and psychotherapies also the very existence of sin seems to be questionable, since it is hard to distinguish always sin from psychological problems. So we would like to underline that sin exists and that this is good news! Because we are not simple derivatives of our psychological drives but capable of real free acts, bearing our personal and inalienable responsibility, sin exists. From this freedom and responsibility - which are flawed somehow - derives the possibility to sin, too. Always, even in extreme situations we have at least the freedom of some sort of choice how to respond to the challenges of life. We can grow up to the task put before us and maybe answer even with heroic acts of love, dignity and care for others or fail and react below our humanity.

On the other side of the reality concerning sin there are also conservative or similar movements in the Church that still cultivate a certain stress on sin in a casuistic manner building on the sense of guilt heavily. Most of the time such views retain almost everything sinful that is related to sexuality, but maybe does not take in consideration at all the social dimension of sin, the fact that we are living in a society and culture that is tainted with injustice toward others through violence and greed. When the companions will face the reality of sin in this First Phase it is necessary that they try to acquire a healthy and balanced view of sin and sinful tendencies and  structures and how to deal with them. Maybe all they can do is to mourn over their participation in these sinful structures, living the beatitude “Blessed are they who mourn” (Mt 5:4) [12].


“Sin occurs in actions that do not have to be posited. Therefore, there are differences in sinfulness, especially the essential difference between mortal and venial sin. There are differences that must be judged objectively according to accepted moral teaching; they must also be judged subjectively. Sin is not just a dialectical opposite of grace; it is not a trick of God’s love that He uses to show us our poverty and ceaturehood so He can then show us how merciful He is. Sin in itself does not demand grace! And therefore, Christian existence is not a dialectical unity of sin and grace; rather, it is a road of decision from darkness to light, according to which the situation of each of us must be judged”[13]

Every one of us has this mysterious “organ”, which we usually call “conscience” and this organ has the role to decide what is right or wrong, morally or ethically. Now we need to postulate that a human person should act upon his conscience, and cannot escape from this responsibility. On the other hand we need to stress that our conscience should be educated, informed and exercised so that it could promptly and correctly work. For this task we have the disposition of our entire lifetime and many resources of objective ethics and  moral teachings.

With a properly informed and strong conscience then we will be able to verify if our act was right or sinful and if the latter, if it was “mortal”, that means seriously grave or if a “venial” sin, that is not totally free and intended but more of a failure and weakness. We can have a sigh of relief; most of our sins are in this second category. Real “mortal” sin is rare, as it supposes one’s full consciousness and a deliberate will toward something objectively gravely wrong. Most of the times this is not the case, however, the possibility to sin gravely we should not be denied or neglected.

This “examination” has a certain affinity with the fourth step of the “Twelve Steps” of the Alcoholics Anonymous[14]. It might be done daily, weekly, monthly or yearly depending on one’s needs. We can use for the Examination of Conscience basically the same five steps we have given at the Daily Examination of Consciousness. The first two of realizing God’s presence and expressing our gratitude will be the same. At the third step according to the goal of our examination we will ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to see in “anamnesis” our actions from a moral viewpoint since the last time we had made the General Examination of Conscience. Then we ask the forgiveness of God for our fault, give thanks for his forgiveness and express our resolution to try to do better. We might close the prayer with an “Our Father…”

If the companions belong to a denomination that has the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) or similar possibility of repentance, during the First Phase it might be appropriate to deal with it. Also members of other denominations could benefit from reflecting upon their  sinfulness and might want to have a sort of liberating dialog with somebody they trust. The companions can have this dialog with each other, of course, but they need to feel it to do so. Most married people would prefer an outside person to share about sins that often are committed right against the person who is more near to us, whom we love the more and are too ashamed to speak of it. There is however an enormous source of healing for the marriage if a couple is able to have an open, supportive and forgiving dialog also about their sins.

In the General examination of Consciousness in preparation for our confession or dialog it might be helpful to review our sins and sinful tendencies in a relational context. That is, we can see how these acts harmed our relation to ourselves, to God, and to other people. This review also should take place in a prayerful atmosphere, invoking the help of the Holy Spirit for our reflection. It is always advisable to look at our sinfulness in the context of God’s mercy which might be represented for us by an image of Christ on the cross and we can recall the words of his prayer for forgiveness toward all sinners “Father, forgive them…” (Lk 23:34). We should not forget that all our sins, past present and future are redeemed sins; the forgiveness is ready for us to receive it when we ask for it. In this regard let us quote here Karl Rahner:

“God’s revelation of guilt takes place especially in the apocalypse of His grace and mercy. Only in this way! Therefore, if God did not tell us about sin in the revelation of His grace, then we would either deny the existence of guilt, or else we would utterly despair. There is no neutral position between this two. Thus we can only get a clear knowledge of guilt, both of its essence and its actuality, from the cross of Jesus Christ. (Therefore, St. Ignatius does not present a metaphysical consideration of sin in the first week[15] of the Exercises. The first meeting with the theme of sin takes place before the cross of Christ and only there.) [16]


For scriptural reading we propone Mt 9:13 and Lk 15,11-24


Final notes before beginning the exercises proper of the First Phase

- When the companions feel that they have acquired the right disposition and got acquainted with the various “Examinations”, tried them out and began to practice the “Daily Examination of Consciousness” then they can begin with the five exercises of the First Phase. During all this time they need to remain faithful to this all-important daily prayer, as the practice of the examination is at the core of discernment.

- We think generally it is helpful at this point of the Exercises to read the “Guidelines for Discernment for the First Phase” [313-327], which are to be found in the Appendix C. These are intended to help the companions to have a reflexive, conscious awareness of their own spiritual reactions and require little or no spiritual formation from the participants of the First Phase to put them in practice. Of course, these are useful not only in the context of the Exercises but throughout the whole life. The companions will need to get an experiential knowledge of these guidelines during this time of First Phase and keep them in consideration for the aftermath whenever the treated spiritual-existential situations occur.

- Finally before beginning the First Phase, the companions need to read the Note in [72] and the Additions in [73-90] and apply the practical advice contained in it to their making of the Exercises. Later on, time-to-time they need to return to the Additions and verify how successfully and faithfully they were able to use them.


[1] Our term “Phase” corresponds to the term “Week” used in the translations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We preferred to use a term that does not indicate a concrete length of time but stresses that we deal with stages in a process, which might be very variable in duration, since we suppose first of all that the Exercises are made in an everyday context, not in a secluded retreat. Even traditionally the “Weeks” of the Exercises don’t mean exactly a week in the calendar but a more or less indicator of time spent in each stage.

[2] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 35.

[3] Cf. Anonym Authors, Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition (New York: Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1976). See this parallel in John F. X. Sheehan, S.J., On Becoming Whole in Christ, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1978), p. 92.

[4] Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography, (New York: Pocket Books, 1940), p. 94.

[5] Ibid., p. 96.

[6] Ibid., pp. 96-98.

[7] We find other prayer forms introduced in abundance during the four Phases of the Spiritual Exercises and in the Appendix A of this book [238-260] we have the “Three Methods of Prayer” which might be tried out any time.

[8] Cf. Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 4.

[9] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 238-239.

[10] Ibid., p. 36.

[11] See the “disidentification” presented in the context of the Christotherapeutic technique of “mind-fasting” (used also in our book later) in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 133-137 with references to the work of Roberto Assaglioli, Psychosynthesis, (New York: Viking Press, 1971)

[12] This beatitude is quoted in Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 55.

[13] Rahner, ”Spiritual Exercises,” p. 36.

[14] Step Four is the following: “[We] Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”, see in Anonymous Authors, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Fifty-ninth Printing (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1999) p. 42. See also in Anonymous Authors, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” p. 64 ff.

[15] Which corresponds to the First Phase in our interpretation.

[16] Rahner, ”Spiritual Exercises,” p. 39.