By MARIA CRESSLER, Commentary | Published November 17, 2021
I can still see my dad at the head of our family’s dinner table when we were young, thanking God not only for the food we were about to eat, but for the bounty of our lives. He thanked God for the company he worked for, our home, our extended family, friends, and often ended his litany by thanking God that we were Italian (because, of course, we had the best food the world could offer and we were about to indulge)! More importantly, what he instilled in my four siblings and me was how important it was to live with a grateful heart.
Being grateful is at the center of our faith in God and why saying Grace was such an essential part of our dinnertime prayer. My parents wanted to instill in us an “attitude of gratitude.” In effect, they understood that a grateful heart is a heart close to God. And a heart close to God is a generous heart.
It is easy to see how gratitude leads to generosity. If we are thanking God for our abundance, we are not looking at life from a perspective of scarcity; we see that we have enough. When we realize this, it is easy then to be generous to others. We enjoy sharing and passing it on!
Ignatius of Loyola begins the Spiritual Exercises with meditations that call us to look at our lives from the lens of gratitude before doing anything more. We are invited to reflect upon our lives and to see clearly just how loved we are by God. We must be able to see not just what we have, but also who we are and that we are loved deeply by God. For it is only when we accept this love that we can then respond by loving our neighbor as oneself. Such love leads to action, to giving of ourselves to others.
The difficulty today is that we often don’t see the beauty of who we already are in God’s eyes; we overlook the abundance of all we have been given. From infancy we are taught to compare ourselves with others in terms of talent or looks, athletic performance, SAT scores, class rankings, job offers, salaries, neighborhoods… All of these compel us to compare ourselves to others. Under these circumstances, the Christian attitude of gratitude and acceptance of innate, God-given gifts does not come easily. Yet as St. Teresa of Avila said, “to compare oneself to another is the death of the spiritual life!” Note that she didn’t just say it was bad for the spiritual life–but that it was the death of it.
We need to take time to soak in the truth of God’s love for us and the bounty of blessings we are given every day. At Ignatius House, we encourage one another to do that through contemplative prayer.
Soon, we will be celebrating our national holiday, Thanksgiving. Although a secular day for Catholics, it falls beautifully at the end our liturgical year and leads us into our season of Advent. This is the time of harvesting—through recognition—the many gifts God has given us during the past year. This is the time to look back with eyes focused on abundance! When we do, we naturally grow closer to the God of Love.
If we look for God and God’s love, we will see it! But remember, as St. Ignatius would say, you must be seeking God in all things to find God in all things. Gratitude is the easiest path to finding God.
Happy seeking, happy finding, and happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Ignatius House!
Maria Cressler is the executive director and a spiritual director at Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Sandy Springs.