Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, October 10, 2019
Retrieving the Daily Examen
Our forerunners in the Protestant Reformation did a great job in rescuing the gospel of Christ from the forces that were dragging it underground and veiling it from the view of human beings. The times were bad. It was almost a curse to be alive on the planet. The period was characterized by declining morals, public corruption, inflation, unemployment, urban decay, increased military and political intrigues for personal gain, and more, by the clergy led by the pope himself, and kings and princes and dukes and military leaders of all kinds. The Dark Ages ran from the fall of the Roman Empire to the rising up of Martin Luther against the Pope, about 476 – 1517. The Papacy became so bedeviled by politics in that time period that they did strange things, and strange things happened to some of them. Many things happened over the one thousand years that are too horrible to talk about. The church badly needed a complete overhaul.
For example, Pope Stephen VI, 896 – 897, who is sometimes referred to as Stephen VII, decided to put one of his predecessors on trial, Pope Formosus, who by the time of the trial had been dead for nine months. Stephen ordered his corpse exhumed. It was then dressed up in papal robes and made to sit on a throne to stand trial for perjury and other crimes for which Pope John VIII had excommunicated Formosus. He had earlier been charged, among others, with the crime of performing the functions of a bishop while under interdict and moving from the see of Porto to that of Rome hence showing that he aspired to be pope. Against those two actions laws had been passed, and for the two “crimes” Formosus was excommunicated. He was however later reinstated as bishop by Pope Marinus I who succeeded John VIII and made Cardinal Bishop of Portus.
At the trial of Formosus’ corpse, there was no real defense because the dead man could not speak for himself. Formosus was found guilty by the phony Cadaver Synod that heard the case with Pope Stephen in attendance, screaming at the corpse. Formosus’ corpse was divested of papal robes, and the three fingers that he had used to deliver blessings were chopped off. His body was dragged through the streets of Rome after which he was briefly buried in some obscure piece of land. But on further thought, Stephen had Formosus’ corpse thrown into the Tiber River. To jump about a year ahead, Pope Stephen VI himself was killed by strangulation by supporters of Formosus in August 897. In later years, Pope Theodore II recovered Formosus’ body which was washed ashore by a flood, but Theodore didn’t have time to bury it because he was pope for only twenty days. It was his successor, Pope John IX, who superintended Formosus’ reburial in St. Peter’s Basilica. Imagine such theatricals happening in the church of Jesus Christ!
Here’s another example of papal woes in the Dark Ages. In 1303 the then king of France, Philip the Fair (Fair, referring to his physical good looks, not to his being eager for justice) sent agents to kidnap Pope Boniface VIII on charges of misconduct. The agents succeeded in apprehending the pope. They plundered the pope’s palace and the king demanded that the pope resign from the papacy. King Philip was a corrupt man himself. He was ruthless and extremely greedy. Pope Boniface VIII was corrupt too. He declared his authority to be supreme, surpassing that of kings and other earthly rulers. He was accused of being autocratic. He used his position as pope to benefit himself financially as well as his family. There were claims that he played an active role in the death of his predecessor Pope Celestine V with a nail driven into the man’s head (But it should be mentioned that in 2013, forensic analysis on Pope Celestine’s remains disputed that accusation).
This gives us a glimpse into the kind of life that transpired during the Middle Ages. It was anarchic. No wonder they are called the Dark Ages. They were Dark not only because there’s not much known about them, but also because of the moral decay in society as a whole. The church was full of worldliness and corruption. The Reformation was indeed long overdue.
When the Protestant Reformers arose, there was a lot to be thrown out of the church in practice, in doctrine, and in overall teachings. These included the number and nature of sacraments, veneration of Mary the mother of Jesus, veneration of saints, veneration of relics (purported bones of saints), penance before a priest, purgatory, authority of the pope, indulgences, justification by faith plus works, saying mass for the dead, the authority of Scripture, and the Latin Vulgate being preferred and elevated over and above the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture. The Reformers came with highly charged slogans and statements that were astounding and unimaginable in those days, such as Martin Luther’s, “A simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.” No wonder the Reformation caused a storm in the church and in the then western world.
However, some of the practices the Reformers threw out were not intrinsically bad or unbiblical as such but had only been contaminated by clerics in a period of free fall in morals and losing the way in what to teach. One of such innocents is the Daily Examen written by one Ignatius of Loyola who lived 1491–1556 and was in the Roman Church. By the time he wrote it, the Protestant Reformation had happened, and the Reformers would not adopt it because it was of the Roman Church. The Daily Examen is a useful tool for spiritual reflection over the day. Written by St. Ignatius Loyola, the Daily Examen is a daily process for prayerfully reflecting on your day. It consists of five steps as follows:
- Start by centering yourself and becoming aware of God’s presence with you. Whether your day was brutal, or a mess, or fair, or good, regardless, God will quiet your soul if you allow yourself the time to intentionally seek his presence. He loves you. He desires to commune with you. You are his child. Invite him to come and be present with you.
- Review the goings-on of the day with thankfulness, one by one. Isn’t there something, however small, that was good in your day? Someone who smiled at you. A store clerk that was friendly to you or to another in your presence. A good meal. The work you did. The energy you had. You really don’t need to look so hard. Examine your entire day since you woke to the time you are doing your Examen. Thank God for every little thing. Jim Reeves sang that we thank thee for the sunshine and for the air that we breathe. Ask God for the eyes to see his blessings.
- Reflect on how God showed himself to you throughout the day. As much as God reveals himself to us through the Bible, he also reveals himself to us through nature, through people, and through events that take place in our lives or just in the world. What emotions did you experience in the day? Happiness? Boredom? Anger? Compassion? Confidence? What is God saying to you through these feelings? Are there instances of God intervening in your circumstances in the day? Are there miracles that happened?
- Reflect on your failings of the day and repent of them. What would you have done differently if you were really living with the awareness of Christ at the time of happening? Lay your failings before God. He knows them already anyway, but your presenting of them to him yourself is the foundation to continual, vibrant, enjoyable walk with God.
- Anticipate tomorrow with the resolve to grow in your reactions to life’s events as a person who names the name of Christ. Make it a part of your rule of life to live in the presence of God all day whatever the world throws at you. Talk to Jesus like he is your friend because he is your friend.
I urge you to practice the Daily Examen daily and consistently for your own spiritual benefit.
The Westminster Larger Catechism with Supporting Texts
What Man Ought To Believe Concerning God
Q. 9. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties (1 John 5:7, Matthew 3:16-17, Matthew 28:19, Corinthians 13:14, John 10:30).
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity (Hebrews 1:5-6, 8, John 1:14, 18, John 15:26, Galatians 4:6).
Q. 11. How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only (Isaiah 6:3, 5, 8, John 12:41, Acts 28:25, 1 John 5:20, Acts 5:3-4, John 1:1, Isaiah 9:6, John 2:24-25, 1 Corinthians 2:10-11, Colossians 1:16, Genesis 1:2, Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 8:14).