By Andy Otto
With Thanksgiving approaching, it might be good to take the time to look at gratitude from St. Ignatius’s perspective. Gratitude is often diluted—a word we hear in passing that has lost its depth. Every Thanksgiving before dinner my family goes around the table and each person names something they’ve been thankful for in the past year. It’s a nice way to start a meal. It even becomes a prayer of sorts, but would Ignatius expect something more? I propose that Ignatius would tell us that gratitude ought to be expressed daily, for all things, and always pointing back to God.
Expressing gratitude is the first step in the Examen. It’s a prayer meant to be prayed once or twice per day. In this Ignatius gives us a model for daily gratitude. In practice, the Examen can become so natural that we find ourselves being aware of God’s movements throughout the course of the day. And Ignatius would likely exhort his followers to respond to those graced movements with gratitude, not just a once a year, but each day.
Daily living encompasses a slew of emotions, activities, and relationships, all of which are gifts from God. Ignatius places gratitude in the Examen as a signal to us to get in the habit of thanking God in the context of those daily gifts. The Contemplation to Attain Love in the Spiritual Exercises broadens this awareness to the gifts of our entire lives, including our birth, family, friends, talents, interests, sacraments, and even God’s very desire to dwell with us. Can we say thank you for those gifts of a lifetime?
As Ignatian spirituality reminds us, gratitude is ultimately expressed in the context of God. It’s prayer. When I thank my family at the dinner table or express my gratitude for others in my life, I ought to keep in mind that it is God who makes these gifts possible. The reminder is there in the original text for the Examen in the Spiritual Exercises: “Give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.” God gives the benefits. God gives us family and goodness and grace. So when I give thanks to the people in my life for the gifts they share with me, I am also giving thanks to God who makes those relationships possible.