A Gratitude Deficit

God Finds Us by Jim Manney
Ignatius thought that a particular type of ignorance was at the root of sin. The deadliest sin, he said, is ingratitude. It is “the cause, beginning, and origin of all evils and sins.” If you asked a hundred people to name the sin that’s the origin of all evils, I’ll bet none of them would say ingratitude. They would say pride or disobedience or greed or anger. The idea that we sin because we’re not sufficiently aware of God’s goodness probably wouldn’t occur to too many people.

By emphasizing gratitude, Ignatius was saying something about the nature of God. God is the generous giver, showering us with blessings like the sun shining on the earth. If we truly understood this, we would return God’s love with love. We wouldn’t sin. Gratitude is a good word for this fundamental quality of our relationship with God. Ingratitude, our blindness to who God truly is, is thus the root of all sin.

Ignatius had a particular experience of sin that may have contributed to the high value he placed on gratitude. For a time, he was tormented by morbid scrupulosity. He didn’t think his sins had been forgiven, so he tried to drive out his guilt and shame with heroic ascetic practices. He fasted, he prayed for hours, he let his hair grow—but these things only made matters worse. It got so bad that he entertained thoughts of suicide. Eventually, Ignatius threw himself on God’s mercy and found peace. He saw himself as a sinner but as a loved sinner.

In his short story “The Repentant Sinner,” Leo Tolstoy tells of a man, a great sinner, who calls out to God for mercy just before he dies. He arrives at the gates of heaven, but they are locked. The apostle Peter explains that a sinner such as he can’t enter heaven, but the man reminds Peter of his sins—he denied Christ three times after swearing to be loyal. Peter goes away and is replaced by King David, who also says that sinners can’t enter heaven. The man reminds David that God had mercy on him despite his many sins, including adultery and murder. Finally the apostle John arrives. You are the beloved disciple, the man says. You wrote that “God is love” and “Brethren, love one another.” Surely, you must let me in. And sure enough, John embraces the man and escorts him into heaven.

That’s the purpose of the first week of the Exercises—to bring us to see that we are loved sinners. Seasoned preachers and speakers know that they’ve done a good job if people can take one idea away from their talk. If you take one idea away from the Spiritual Exercises, this is the one: you are a sinner who is loved by God.

Adapted from God Finds Us: An Experience of the the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

About Jim Manney 787 Articles
Jim Manney is a popular writer on Ignatian topics (God Finds Us, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer) as well as the editor of many books on Ignatian spirituality, including What Is Ignatian Spirituality? He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

9 Comments on A Gratitude Deficit

  1. Our clergy promote the Sacrament of Reconciliation enthusiastically during Advent and Lent, this year asking why so few enter the confessional though so many sit in the pews? Are we incredibly sinless or do we lack a sense of our own sinfulness? Do we feel we don’t need God’s forgiveness? If so, do we need God at all? It’s a slippery slope we slide down if we think along these lines, but what a wonderful remedy we have in Reconciliation, and we can avail ourselves of it year round. As for gratitude, I try to preface all prayer with it, all too easy for me to overlook otherwise, go straight to petition. Gratitude can become a mindset, an attitude, a fresh new way of viewing our lives in Christ. I’m especially grateful for this blog and those who join in on discussion, a privilege to know you, albeit through the internet.

    • Re: empty confessionals: Perhaps they think it’s long and involved and requires a format they no longer recall. Reconciliation is great because it causes the confessee to face another person (that’s the hard part), provides forgiveness, and also allows the priest to assess whether the confessor needs professional help on an issue. Maybe that is what some folk are afraid of and perhaps they just think they’re still safe because they haven’t died yet so they still have time. As for gratitude, all is gift.

  2. My last confession was during lent of 2013. After thus, I realized how God again nourished my soul with sustainable food to protect me from doing the same mistakes and sin again. But before my last confession takes place, i felt heavily loaded with pride and arrogance knowing that I’m the best and being loved by Him, yet, dying for sin. Through the reconciliation, perfectly I grow again like a new leaf on a tree sprouting to live again. Yes, I am a sinner loved by Him.

  3. I am eternally thankful for God finding the true me while I did the Spiritual Exercices. O God you search me and you know me becomes more real every day.

  4. Very wise words. Thank you. It’s very hard to feel loved sometimes, not so hard to feel like a sinner…but then I tend to think that because life is so hectic, you don’t give yourself the time to stop and see how beautiful the sun or the chestnuts are…and that is the same as not giving yourself time to feel God’s love.

  5. There is a saying in Spanish that I heard a very long time ago from an elderly priest in my parish:

    ‘En el jardin de la vida la flor mas rara es la de la gratitud”

    meaning;

    “In the garden of life the rarest flower is the flower of gratitude.”

    I thank God for all the resources that are available to us all through this sorse and others. May God Bless you all abundantly.

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