When was it “me” and when was it “we?”
That’s a simple summary of the Examen prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola. It’s a way of “rummaging backward through our day” (as one Jesuit put it), to find out when I was following God, and when I was going my own way.
The readings this week are filled with this theme. St. Paul speaks of Christ being in us and us being in Him; he speaks of being buried with Him, raised with Him, hidden with Him, and appearing with Him in glory. He says, emphatically, at one point: “Christ is all, and in all.”
Which raises a question: Is He, in our daily words and deeds — do we let Him be all, and in all?
Of course, it’s fair to ask: How would we measure that? Fortunately, the readings for the week give us guidance.
On Wednesday, in Colossians 3, St. Paul names the following indicators: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed. Then he gets even more specific: anger, fury, malice, slander, obscene language and lying. St. Paul calls these the remnants of the “old self” — fallen human nature. You and I know that this “old self” still lives within us because, from time to time, it shows itself in our actions and attitudes. (If you’re looking for more examples — signs of the old self — St. Paul develops a similar list in Galatians 5:19-21 where he calls them “works of the flesh.”)
On Thursday, later in Colossians 3, St. Paul gives us another list of indicators: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness of others. These are the signs of Christ’s life in us. And just as we know the remnants of the “old self” from experience, so we also know these indicators of Christ’s life in our experience. (If you’re looking for more examples — signs of Christ’s life in us — St. Paul develops a similar list in Galatians 5:22-23 where he calls them “the fruits of the Spirit.”)
In the push and pull of the old self in us and the life of Christ in us, St. Paul encourages us to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts” and to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” and to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” That’s where the Examen prayer can be helpful.
When we look back on our day, and find that our words and deeds were characterized by the indicators of the old self, then we’ve found the places where we aren’t following Jesus, where it’s more “me” than “we.” When we look back on our day, and find that our words and deeds were characterized by the indicators of Christ’s life, then we’ve found the places where we are following Jesus, where it’s more “we” than “me.”
You know, most of our days are a little bit of both. But we shouldn’t be discouraged to find an interplay of light and darkness in our lives. That’s how it is for fallen humanity! The key question is: What do we do with it?
We can pivot on our failures, turning to Jesus and saying: “I’m sorry. Please help me follow you more closely tomorrow.” Then even failure becomes an opportunity to draw closer to Him. All of a sudden it becomes “we” again, new life rising out of the grave.
We can also turn to Jesus in success, saying: “Thank you for living in me, and letting me live in You. But Jesus, You know me! I’m likely to fall into the old self again tomorrow. Please help me to remain in You.”
If we tell Him about the highs and the lows, and receive His strength and forgiveness, then everything becomes an opportunity to let Him live more deeply in us, and to live more deeply in Him. Then every day becomes “we” more than “me,” and that’s the path to heaven.