FROM THE PASTOR: October 25, 2009
Thanksgiving (the holiday) is still a month-and-a-half away, but for us Christians, an “att-ee-tude of grat-ee-tude” (as some of my local friends say!) should never be far from us. After all, if we believe that God created everything that exists and holds it in existence as a gift to help us on our life journey to him – an assumption that St. Ignatius lays out at the beginning of the Exercises, as I noted in my previous column – then we’ve got a whole lot of thanking to do. It seems likely that’s why our ancestors-in-faith decided to call “that remembering thing we do” (which Jesus commanded us to do at the Last Supper) “Eucharist” – which means “thanksgiving.”
In order to get retreatants well in touch with gratitude for God’s love and goodness, directors of the Exercises have learned over the centuries to invite their directees to spend the opening days of their retreat praying with the beauty and the wonder of creation. Each of us learns to do this in our own way. If you love flowers, for instance, just think about their varieties of size, color, shape, and so on (go the Philadelphia Flower Show!). Even the beauty of the vegetables at Whole Foods can become an occasion for wonder, thanks, and praise…
You can go “macro” – search on line for some photographs of galaxies out in deep space taken by the repaired and upgraded Hubble telescope. Or you can go “micro” – check out some microscope photos of an amoeba dividing, or better yet, some microscope photos of the delicate crystalline tracery of snow flakes!! During this Respect Life month, check out some of the spectacular photo images now available of unborn babies in utero; or, if you have easy access to a real newborn, check out their tiny but perfectly formed fingernails and toenails.
Or meditate on yourself a bit. Think about the generations of gene pools which combined over the centuries in order to come up with you, wonderful you, fabulous you – every bit as unique and amazing as an individual snowflake. Think about your heart, which beats without any conscious attention from you… Or about your breathing, which not only goes on without your having to worry about it (even when you’re asleep!), but also feeds your lungs, which provide life-giving oxygen to your body while extracting and casting off carbon dioxide.
Consider your amazing brain, the “central computer” which coordinates and controls everything from body temperature and digestion to playing the piano and reading Charles Dickens. Consider the creative instinct – one of many ways in which we are fashioned in God’s “image and likeness” – which has given us the pyramids at Giza, Michelangelo’s “David,” and Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” Or you may want to spend some time on the five senses – the marvels of your sight, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. If it weren’t for these, baklava and baked ziti – not to mention hugs – would hold little or no joy or interest for us!
Are you catching my drift here? Or rather, St. Ignatius’ drift? Or what he considered to be God’s drift? Spend some quality time praying with gratitude – in all of its specificity and particularity – and you’ll pretty quickly realize that you have lots and lots to thank God for, and little enough to complain about… You’ll also get in touch with and begin to marvel at God’s wondrous creativity and generosity – manifested not only in the universe at large, but just as clearly directed at little old you. St. Ignatius, who loved to walk at night in the roof garden of the General’s residence in Rome, eventually concluded that God made the stars as they are for our pleasure. Not, of course, that they have no other functions and purposes within the cosmos; but it’s hard to think of any other good reason for them to twinkle as beautifully as they do…
So what did any of us ever do to deserve all these gifts, and all this extravagant divine attention? Nothing, really. Because it’s not so much about us as it is about God. St. John got it right in his first epistle: “God IS love” (4:8). Love is not just what God does; it’s who God IS. And God, who created you in love, loves you infinitely and unconditionally and eternally. Kind of makes you feel big and small all at the same time, doesn’t it? Kind of makes you want to say, with Mary, the mother of Jesus: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-47, 49).
©2009 Fr. Daniel M. Ruff. S.J.