The gift of the present moment in this new year
Two things are common at the start of a new year — reminiscing and resolving. We search for some way to challenge or improve ourselves. For the most part, these are activities that do nothing to create the change that most of us want to see in our lives. There is a good reason for that fact: the past is over and done and cannot be changed. The future doesn’t yet exist. St. Faustina put it this way: “The past does not belong to me; the future is not mine; with all my soul I try to make use of the present moment.”
St. Ignatius’ Examen
One of the few rules of prayer that St. Ignatius of Loyola made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice an “Examen” at noon and at the end of each day. In this he urged his followers to pay careful attention to how the Spirit is moving in each moment of their daily lives. The Examen followed a simple formula:
1. Give thanks. Spend a few moments in gratitude for the gifts and blessings of this day.
2. Ask for light. What focus is the Spirit leading me to examine?
3. Examine the day. Not the year, not the week, but this day, this time.
4. Seek forgiveness. We all fail, but God understands and will forgive if we but ask.
5. Resolve to change. What one thing can I do today to start that change?
The Examen is such a powerful prayer because it is personal and it is timely. We are invited to encounter God right now, express gratitude for the gift given this day, and to commit to make up immediately for any mistakes we may have made. We do not look to a nebulous future time to start making the needed changes. Instead we use this precious moment, the only time we are assured of.
This concept is not new. Buddha encouraged, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Deepak Chopra observed, “Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” Eckhart Tolle noted, “What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time — past and future — the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
Our own Saint Mother Theodore reflected a quotation attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo when she said, “Be assured that in leaving the past to the mercy of God and the future to [God’s] Providence you will derive from your offering a very great peace and very great consolation.” She understood that we cannot change the past or the future without living fully the present moment. Her advice was to look to the future by living today:
“In the morning, say in your heart: O my God, here is another day given to me to love and serve you. Be glad of it.”— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin