A Surefire Exercise for Holiness: The Particular Examen

The following text is from Fr. Thomas Dubay's book, 
Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer (pp. 103–105).

Fr. Thomas Dubay, in outlining the Surefire Program for deep conversion, gives this spiritual exercise on how we can be more specific in a practical way on this path to holiness. Vague wishes and general aspirations NEVER produce conversion. We need to be clear and specific in our aims.

This is why many of the wise religious orders retain the practice they call particular examen. It is exactly what its name indicates. In this exercise the person focuses special daily attention on one fault to be corrected or one virtue to be acquired or improved upon: gossiping, overeating or bursts of temper, for example; or gentleness, humility or truth telling. At the same time each day (an aid to remembrance), in a prayerful atmosphere and place, this individual goes over the previous twenty-four hours, examining how he behaved on the one specific point. He notices how he succeeded or fell with regard to that one aim, what were the times and circumstances, who were the persons who triggered the successes or failures. Most likely it will not be many days before he sees a pattern emerging (if he did not already know it). This first part of particular examen can be done in one or two minutes.

Then he spends another short time planning for the next twenty-four hours and preparing to do better on this one point. It is wise to begin particular examen with a short prayer for light to know oneself better, and to conclude it with another for vigilance and readiness aimed at success in execution. This whole exercise can be done in a few minutes. Its helpfulness is due to putting concern and determination into practice.

Saint Therese of Lisieux offers us a great example of the particular examen:

Bernard Bro, O.P., in his study of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, offers a concrete example of how this saint went about acquiring a specific virtue and avoiding a potential fault. She did not simply wish in general to love her religious sisters. She selected a specific need for improvement, foresaw the time, persons and circumstances in which she was going to meet the problem:

Thérèse had acquired the habit of smiling every time when, at work, she was disturbed by a Sister who came with or without reason, to ask her for some service. She noted this with humor in her last manuscript. She was ready for annoyance: “I want it; I count on it … so I am always happy” (Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, p. 62).

That is particular examen in a nutshell and in action. This charming saint was concerned, determined, motivated, much in love, deeply prayerful and specific. It is no wonder she so quickly reached heroic holiness and the transforming intimacy with the Trinity indwelling. She was living the surefire program, even if she did not hear of it put in those words.

Final tips

  1. Choose and write down somewhere 1 virtue you want to work on and 1 vice you want to get rid of.
  2. Do the particular examen each day in regards to both this virtue and vice.
  3. Review at the end of the week and see if you need to change your virtue and/or vice.

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