In celebration of our fifth anniversary, we’ve invited our dotMagis bloggers to reflect on the individual lines of St. Ignatius’s Prayer for Generosity.
The Prayer for Generosity gives us words that assist us on a lifelong path of becoming more fully surrendered to God.
St. Ignatius’s words “to labor and not to seek reward” can include larger vocational decisions to seek God’s call for its own sake, and not for external rewards such as wealth, honor, or security. Instances are choosing to be a social worker, or starting a small business that can benefit my community, or beginning a family. However, this kind of decision is only a first step. As we encounter various obstacles in life, the question of our own motivation is continually challenged; our love purified; and our surrender to God deepened.
Students who undertake service projects at my university often constructively question their own motives: do they take up a service project for the sake of the others whom they serve? to increase their own learning? as a good resumé builder? to feel pleasure in helping another? Often our own motives are not clear even to ourselves until problems arise. For example, a person at a homeless shelter is angry because no more beds are available, and though this is not the student’s fault, she feels badly about the lack of gratitude and asks why she is there.
At such times, we confront not only a lack of “reward” but also a certain impurity in our own motives. Acknowledging that our own actions are not as other-centered as we thought can be humbling. Then we often have to choose how and why to continue. Ignatius’s words encourage us to take up these challenges as an opportunity for the purification of love.
We can also labor without seeking reward by letting go of the fruits of our own labors. Often, we do not know our actions’ effects. A small act of kindness to a stranger on the morning commute may encourage another to act more gently in the next part of her day at work. A student who sits in the back of a class with cap pulled down low may later tell his teacher that the class was transformative.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote of her desire to come to God at the end of her life with “empty hands,” so that God would take her not for her works, but only for herself. Like Ignatius she recognized that we are loved unconditionally. When we know of that love, then our gifts to God and others can then also be freer of self-concern. We can surrender ourselves into God’s hands in all our labors, trusting that God will use whatever we offer to bear fruit.