Living gratefully23 Oct 2018
During the second week in May this year I had the good fortune to travel to Chiang Mai in Thailand and participate in a meeting designed to build stronger foundations across Asia-Pacific for an Ignatian Spirituality network.
It was a delight. All 13 Jesuit provinces, regions and missions were represented, together with some eight directors of Ignatian retreat centres, and two major superiors – Father Tony Moreno SJ, conference president, and Father John Chong SJ, provincial of Korea. It would be difficult to find another group in the Society that enjoyed more cultural diversity.
Ever since my first Asian meeting in Jakarta in 1975, indeed my first overseas excursion of any kind when I endured significant culture shock – I have found such gatherings stimulating, yet challenging. We work hard to listen to one another, to listen to the words behind the words, using the English language which can be so difficult and obtuse for many. Yet we do communicate. It can be something of a wrestle with difference, but how we wrestle is who we are.
THE ‘GLUE’ OF IGNATIAN SPIRITUALITY
On this particular occasion, however, I felt much at home, more so than at any other time when attending similar Asia-Pacific meetings. I asked myself why this was so. Was it my advancing years? Perhaps, but in thinking more about this group, I came to realise that we were so closely connected, so strongly at home with one another, because Ignatian spirituality is our glue. Being at home – with myself, my God, with others, and with the planet as our home – is a reason for much gratitude.
Those of us devoted to Ignatian spirituality would know that gratitude is one of its cornerstones. St Ignatius, rather surprisingly I must admit, wrote once that ingratitude ‘is the most abominable of all sins, and it is to be detested in the sight of the Creator and Lord by all of God’s creatures for it is the forgetting of the graces, benefits, and blessings received’.
Time and again in the spiritual exercises, Ignatius invites us to savour those many occasions for gratitude in our life. Savouring is an antidote to our increasingly brisk and frenetic lives. It not only slows us down, but in Tony De Mello’s provocative words, ‘we sanctify whatever we are grateful for.’ If we are not careful, someone once noted, we can become ‘human doings’ instead of ‘human beings’.
In Ignatian spirituality gratitude is much more than a transient feeling; it is an abiding vision recognising that all is gift. As we grow in awareness of God’s gracious love, we generate gratitude which, for Ignatius, serves as a springboard to loving service. Kathleen Norris has a wonderful reflection in her book Amazing Grace when she writes: ‘We praise God not to celebrate our own faith, but to give thanks for the faith God has in us. To let ourselves look at God and let God look back at us.’
On the other side of the coin, there are all sorts of homelessness, of course. In addition to those forced to live on the streets, there are those who live in the most lavish mansions who are deeply unhappy – they have a hole in the soul you might say. In my retreat work I spend a good deal of time these days helping people to come home to themselves.
TRY TO ‘BE HERE’
Frequently at the beginning of my retreat sessions I challenge the audience with Richard Rohr’s four words: ‘Try to be here.’ Try to leave behind the worries of the previous hour or two, the squabbles of the last 30 minutes, the excitement of some event to come. After all, God is to be found only in the present – right where we are – and we don’t need to look anywhere else. This is what the Incarnation means. God is right here with us in every moment and event of our lives.
When Pope Francis was beginning his time as Pope in 2013, our well-known Australian Jesuit, Father Frank Brennan wrote: ‘Fasten your seat belts. We are in for an exciting ride with this Pope. He is happy to make mistakes. He is happy to go with the flow. But above all, he is so happy in his own skin…’
‘Happy in his own skin’ – it is another way of saying he is perfectly at home with himself. He knows his gifts, his strengths, and is prepared to accept also his limitations.
WE EACH HAVE A ‘FACE’
So, in being home with ourselves, we want to be at home with our God – that’s what prayer is all about – at home with others, and at home with our planet earth. During a wonderful TED talk in April last year, Pope Francis said beautifully: ‘Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.’
A final word from Thomas Merton: ‘To be grateful is to recognise the love of God in everything God has given us – and God has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love, every moment of existence is a grace. . . Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.’ (Thoughts in Solitude)
Let us not forget that the beautiful invitation of Jesus in John’s Gospel chapter 15 remains always open to us: ‘Make your home in me as I make mine in you.’