Examen on Understanding

Place yourself in the presence of the Lord and pray for enlightenment. Relax. Breathe deeply. Run quickly over the past few hours or days, allowing your real feelings to surface about the events that have been part of your life, the feelings you’ve buried so that you could make it through the day.

Pay attention to the way in which the Lord has been present to you. Where have you felt drawn to the Lord or moved to understanding? Where have you met the Lord when you felt afraid … misunderstood … tempted … relieved … happy? Turn to the Lord with gratitude.

Choose one incident or reaction that stands out particularly for you at this time and which is still not settled for you. Recall to mind the details of the incident and its context, the people involved, and how you feel about it.

Read in the Bible James and John (Mark 10:35-45)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:35-45)


There are three different groups in this Gospel passage:

  1. James and John, who recognize Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and voice their desire to be next to him in heaven.
  2. The other ten apostles, who get frustrated with James and John because they think that the two brothers are being selfish by trying to claim the spots at Jesus’ side for themselves.
  3. Jesus, who understands his followers’ desire to be close to him and also wants to enable them to live out God’s plans for their lives.

Jesus understands those he loves. Notice that he does not chastise James and John for striving to have the highest place in heaven, nor does he chastise the other apostles when they become jealous of the two brothers. Instead, Jesus understands that James and John desire to be close to him in heaven which is a beautiful desire. Jesus also knows that they do not have enough information to know what their desire entails. Likewise, he understands that the other apostles are hurt at the possibility that they might not be closest to Jesus.

As you reflect again upon the incident or reaction you have chosen for your examen, pay attention to how Jesus encounters others with a loving understanding. The Lord sees the situation that you have chosen for your examen, and he understands it. He looks at you with love and invites you to grow closer to him. What is it that you want the Lord to understand in your life?

God sees the heart of each person and he loves them. God made all people good, but sometimes their goodness can be difficult to see without seeking to understand. How would approaching others with increased understanding strengthen your relationships?

God’s great love for you is made manifest in the experiences of your life. As you make this examen, the Lord is right now moving your heart toward understanding.

Spend some time talking over with the Lord what you are learning and experiencing. With simplicity express your sorrow for any lack of understanding in your life and your gratitude for any movements you sense toward greater understanding through God’s grace.

Identify one step toward becoming a more understanding person that you want to take going forward, a step that is actually possible for you. Pray for the grace to be a more understanding person.

Take a few moments to bring your thoughts or insights from this reflection to prayer.
Ask God for the grace to live what you have reflected on. Close your prayer time with the prayer below.
You may wish to carry this prayer through your day.

Image by marthaartess from Cathopic