A Communal Examen

People know that there is no gift as great as the gift of a faithful friend who means only good for you. So here is occasion to name the influences that such persons have had on your values and choices.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;

he who finds one finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price,

no sum can balance his worth.

A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,

such as he who fears God finds;

For he who fears God behaves accordingly,

and his friend will be like himself.


Sirach 7:14–17

1.   Ask for attention, insight and courage.

Paying attention requires extraordinary discipline and concentration. Weil stresses attention because, for her, prayer consists of just that — attention. Weil’s point is that, no matter what we are learning and for whatever purpose, the time and effort spent working is not wasted because the result will one day be discovered in prayer. But that is not all. She adds that “Not only does the love of God have attention for its sub­stance; the love of our neighbor which we know to be the same love, is made of the same substance.” The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer (to someone in need) is very rare and difficult — almost a miracle and nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. To give this kind of attention means being able to say to our neighbor: “What are you going through.” To be able to pay attention to another in a community service setting challenges a student to pay attention to another and ask “What are you about?” (Waiting for God p. 115).

2.   Examine how relationships are doing.

Then come to those relationships that are not going well. Every relationship is triune — one person, the relationship, and another person — and all three matter.

Honestly lay four templates over each conflicted relationship. As you contemplate your relationship with each person under each template, demand an account of yourself. The templates will help you look clearly at any faltering relationship. They will demand that you take your responsibility for what you have done, what you are doing, what you must do, to make this relationship a strong and holy one.


1.   Conflict — You cannot come to agreement with another in some serious matter. You are losing respect for the person. You question whether you can ever work together again. Any of these suggests a relationship of conflict, often a hot relationship.

2.   Distancing — You hold each other at arm’s length. You have become very polite to each other. You rarely talk about anything serious; instead you chat. You would simply rather not have to pay attention to this person. This is distancing, and, though it seems to suggest that you have no relationship, you have — a special one.

3.   Cutting Off — You stay out of each other’s way. You do not communicate even when you have to convey some information. You do not like this person. Your judgment is that this person is harming the community, apostolate, family. This is a cutoff and it is an intense relationship.

4.   Triangling — You have an issue with another and, instead of going to the other, take it to a third person. You find yourself saying things about this person, not to him or her, but to others. You gossip about this person. You complain about his shortcomings to others, never to the person. Alternatively, you passively allow others to tell you things about this person whom they ought to be saying to him or her.

When you are on a team with another, you are not free to remain unrelated. The only issue is how you will choose to relate. Each template names a relationship. It is critical to accept that you are related to a person even when you cut him off, or are constantly arguing and debating with him, or when you are triangling. Humility demands that you affirm your own contribution to making a relationship bad, or your cooperation in any dysfunctional relationship.

3.   Ask for healing for those you have wounded and for yourself.

We cannot overestimate the power of forgiveness, not only of others, but also of ourselves.

4.   Choose to do one thing tomorrow.

We often get caught up in the business of our work as time away from what we should be doing. We take our friends for granted that we really don’t think about each other very much at all, unless there is a celebration or discord. But in truth, each person given to us is as indispensable to our growth as the sun that comes up each morning, with no acknowledge­ment or gratitude for rising.

In undergoing this communal examen I ask for your courage. It is often not pleasant to shine light on any relationship, let alone those that may be difficult. Humility demands that we examine what we do to contribute to these difficult relation­ships. Further, I ask for your assurance in affirming your community connections and to experience how they have become part of your life, whether consoling in nature or not.

In spite of every obstacle we are all in search of belonging, in search of unity — with Our Creator, and with each other.

as outlined by Joseph Tetlow in his article in

Review for Religious,

“Examen: Persons in Relationships.”


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