The Amazing Power of Gratitude in the Spiritual Life

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes. 5:18)

 

thanksSaint Ignatius of Loyola makes the following powerful and evocative statements about the harm lack of gratitude causes in the spiritual life. He says: “It seems to me, in light of the divine Goodness, …that ingratitude is one of the things most worthy of detestation before our Creator and Lord, and before all creatures capable of divine and everlasting glory, out of all the evil and sins which can be imagined. For it is the failure to recognize the good things, the graces, and the gifts received. As such, it is the cause, beginning, and origin of all evil and sins” (cited and referenced in Consoling the Heart of Jesuspage 421).

Another Saint and Doctor of the Church, Therese of Lisieux, has this to say about gratitude: “What most attracts God’s grace is gratitude, because if we thank him for a gift, he is touched and hastens to give us ten more, and if we thank him again with the same enthusiasm, what an incalculable multiplication of graces! I have experienced this; try it yourself and you will see! My gratitude for everything he gives me is limitless, and I prove it to him in a thousand ways” (The Way of Trust And Love, p.111)

As Father Timothy Gallagher explains, Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s basic attitude toward God was one of deep gratitude. “For Ignatius then, the consciously chosen remembrance of God’s gifts is not just a moment in a spiritual day or simply a devout practice…. It is the heart itself of the way he understands God and relates to God. The only God he ever knew from the first moment of his conversion was the God who constantly bestows gifts of grace upon us, revealing through these gifts the infinite love with which we are loved” (The Examen Prayer, p.58). Here is a beautiful quote from one of Saint Ignatius’ early disciples (Father Diego Lainez, S.J.) which touches upon Saint Ignatius’ profound gratitude for God and His creation: “At night Ignatius would go up on the roof of the house, with the sky there up above him.  He would sit quietly, absolutely quietly.  He would take his hat off and look up for a long time at the sky.  Then he would fall to his knees, bowing profoundly to God….And the tears would begin to flow down his cheeks like a stream….”  (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, page 17).

st_ignatius_of_loyola_1491-1556_founder_of_the_jesuitsSaint Ignatius, truly one of the great masters of the spiritual life, recommends that we end each day with a prayer of thanksgiving to God in gratitude for the gifts and graces we have received from God throughout the day. This can be done in a very simple, two-step process (perhaps as you are lying in bed to go to sleep):

1. Close your eyes and become aware of the love with which God is looking upon you. Do this for a minute or two to place yourself in the presence of God (Gallagher, p.25).

2. In your mind review your day and note the gifts and graces God has given you, and give profound thanks to God for them (Gallagher, p. 25).

 

Here then, with this “Examen” prayer, you are ending your day on a very profound note of gratitude to God. Father Jacques Philippe says this about gratitude: “Here we touch on… one of the secrets of the spiritual life that also is one of the laws of happiness. The more we cultivate gratitude and thanksgiving, the more open our hearts are to God’s action, so that we can receive life from God and be transformed and enlarged. By contrast, if we bury ourselves in discontent, permanent dissatisfaction, then our hearts close themselves insidiously against life, against God’s gift” (The Way of Trust and Love, p. 112).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Reference: My two sources for this note, besides The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, are The Examen Prayer by Father Timothy H. Gallagher, and The Way of Trust and Love by Father Jacques Philippe. For a more detailed approach to the Examen prayer of Saint Ignatius, and the other steps in the prayer which can be utilized, see Father Gallagher’s book. Also, Father Michael Gaitley gives a consolidated explanation of the Examen prayer (using the B-A-K-E-R method) in two of his books (see Consoling the Heart of Jesus, 178-182, and 33 Days to Morning Glory, pages 187-189). I am also relying on pages 421-422 of Consoling the Heart of Jesuswhich also references Father Gallagher’s book, The Examen Prayer, and the critical importance of gratitude in Saint Ignatius’ life, a point which had touched me too when I read this part of Gallagher’s book. Image: Painting of Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), a Public Domain work of art in the U.S.A.

  • Jeff77

    Thanks for this wonderful reminder!! Love especially the simplicity and power in the quote from Therese of Lisieux. If all we remember in prayer is to give thanks to God for EVERYTHING in our lives, we will start to form the right relationship Him.

  • Dan

    Fantastic words of wisdom from the saints! In a modern culture permeated by negativity, a spiritual attitude of gratitude provides a very powerful witness & can draw others to see the great goodness and generosity of God. THANK YOU Mr Mulcahy for this profound reflection & your inspiring insights.

  • Ramanie

    Thank you for this great article. Very helpful. God bless you.

  • Theresa Huang

    Way to enter into His presence beautifully…

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