“Where are the other nine? Did none of them choose to return and give praise to God but this foreigner?”
When our Jesuit colleges began, there were no such things as uniforms, crests or mottos. But those first Jesuit educators, in the ambience of the emerging humanism of the day, were drawing upon the texts of “pagan” authors – prose literature, histories and verses in Latin and Greek – to employ in their classes. If one believed in “finding God in all things”, then there were truths and virtues to be discovered in the best of these traditions as well as any Scriptures. Cicero was a favourite, not only as a master of rhetorical style, but as a purveyor of virtues that would shape the lives of young people for the public good. One exhortation from Cicero’s treatise on civil office came as close as one could get to a school motto for those educators: Non nobis solum nati sumus (“we do not exist for ourselves alone”). In those early days of schooling, a sense of a life spent in the service of others was already taking root.
I think Ignatius would have also warmed to another observation of Cicero in a letter to Plancius, where Cicero proposed that “Being grateful and showing gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” What is my basis for presuming to read Ignatius’ mind? It is because of a letter that the Founder wrote to Simon Rodrigues SJ, one of the first companions and now Provincial Portugal in of 1542.
Ignatius was reflecting upon what was the greatest of sins. Which action had the power to most seriously come between us and God? When I pose this question to the fertile adolescent minds of the boys today, their proposed possibilities are extreme and endless! But Ignatius, as usual, has the insight. He writes:
It seems to me in the light of Divine Goodness, although others may think differently, that ingratitude is the most abominable of sins and that it should be detested in the sight of our Creator and Lord by all of His creatures who are capable of enjoying His divine and everlasting glory. For it is a forgetting of the graces, benefits and blessings received.
Ignatius sees ingratitude drawing a ring of self-sufficiency around us. We are indebted to no one. Self-made men and women. Masters of our own redemption. Independent, insular and impregnable. Such a person has no need to thank anyone. No need of anyone – even God.
The point is well-made by Jesus in his encounter with ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel (17:11-19) whom he cures compassionately and willingly. As they rush to the Temple priests to return to a state of holiness/cleanness, only one remembers to return to Jesus and offer him thanks. Jesus is surprised – even more so because this one was a Samaritan, long-time enemies of the Israelites.
Writing on the centrality of gratitude for Ignatian Spirituality, Meg Blackie recently writes:
Gratitude is an acknowledgement of the continual gifting of God. And my expression of gratitude probably doesn’t begin with saying “Thank you.” Rather it begins in the savouring of what I have, in the celebration of the life that is. As I begin to savour and to celebrate, I start to look around for those whom I should include in my thanksgiving. I cannot help but turn my attention to God.
Gathered at a joint St Aloysius’ and St Ignatius’ Colleges Staff Development Day this week, we prayed with the simplest response in gratitude: our thanks to God for a new day. We employed a most serene evocation of gratitude by Br David Steindl-Rast a Benedictine monk of Austrian origins, now in New York, entitled A Good Day and to be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw It is well worth sitting with for a five-minute reflection in some quiet moment.
Then perhaps the following verse (by a quirky American poet not bound too much by grammar and punctuation) might draw it all to a grateful conclusion.
e e cummings
I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any — lifted from the no
of all nothing — human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)