Search Me, O God, and Know My Political Heart

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St. Ignatius’ examen provides a test of our political theology, positions, and engagement.

The end of 2020 is finally nigh, and my impulse, encouraged by the expectant mindset of Advent—to say nothing of the truly remarkable pace at which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed—is to look forward to new and better things. This is what we do as one year closes and another opens: set resolutions, vow to tread fresh paths, and, hopefully, repurpose ourselves in habits that aid in love of God and neighbor.

But it would be a mistake to exclusively look forward at the impending conclusion not only of a year but also of a presidency and a public crisis like nothing in living memory. This is an opportunity to look back, to engage in a year-scaled and politics-focused version of the nightly practice of examen, which was developed by Ignatius of Loyola, a theologian and co-founder of the Jesuit order. It is a good time to think and pray about our (perhaps unconscious) theology of political engagement; about the consistency of our political positions, both among themselves and with what we believe as Christians; and about our political behavior, the way we’ve comported ourselves in the public square and the way we’ve handled political differences in our private relationships.

The examen, as Ignatius conceived it, formalizes David’s plea in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius gave five steps for the examen. Begin, he wrote, by giving thanks to God. Then, “ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.” Having done so, take an inventory of the whole day’s thoughts, words, and deeds. Finally, “ask …

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