"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

If you don’t get what you want, want what you get (or: ‘if you knew the gift of God’…)

If you don’t get what you want, want what you get.

Snowy Rowan – Version 2

October encourages me to reflect on gratitude.  Is it only for picture-perfect holidays with big dinners surrounded by family and friends?  Is giving thanks a virtue I can work on so that I don’t miss the gifts of God?

Walking through an unexpected, heavy October snowfall, I was dressed sensibly; with feet clad in hiking boots and knee-high gaiters, I would get where I planned to go!  Once outside, I kept my head down to make sure I didn’t slip.  If I sensed an oncoming pedestrian I’d look up quickly, then step aside into the deep snow because I knew my gaiters would keep me dry.  Most of my fellow walkers stuck to the beaten path, keeping the powder out of their footwear and keeping their heads down to avoid slipping.  We were all somewhat grimly goal oriented. One fellow walker surprised me;  he lifted his gaze and smiled warmly!  Not just for letting him have the right-of-way, but because there was a gift in sharing the path, in giving and receiving a blessing.  It was as though the sun had come out. Before I knew it, I was grinning back like a kid on a snow day should.  The snow that had me grumbling about altered plans and marching stoically was a gift to help me see God’s playful creativity.  He longs to help me grow into friendship with Him by growing in gratitude.

Within my routine there are two occasions for giving thanks that I routinely neglect because my head is down, focusing on the path I’ve marked out for myself.  The first is taking the time to thank and to listen to the Lord Jesus after receiving Him in Holy Communion. Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, in his encyclopedic book on the Interior Life, begins a lesson on gratitude with the patron saint of humour and joy: “St Philip Neri had two altar boys, carrying lighted candles, accompany a lady who left the church immediately after the end of the Mass during which she had received Holy Communion.”[1]  Corpus Christi ProcessionImagine our surprise if while fumbling for our smart phone and car keys we were suddenly flanked by processional candles! Fr Garrigou-Lagrange continues with the practical explanation: “The Real Presence subsists in [the faithful] as sacramental species for about a quarter of an hour after Communion, and can they not keep their divine Guest company for this short time?”[2]  Can I lift my eyes from my path, my expectations for my day, to listen for His promptings?

A second pause for gratitude I try to practice comes at the beginning of my Examination of Conscience at the end of the day.  christ2As encouraged by St Ignatius,[3] beginning this exercise by thanking God for all He has sent me in the providential particulars of my day opens my eyes to his Kingdom of compassionate care.  Once aware of how deeply I am loved, I can ask for His help to identify with true sorrow those times when I have chosen my own path over the Lord’s. When I find myself with a heart that is trudging, head down through my day, it is often because I let my thoughts grumble over my disrupted plans or disappointed expectations.  Woman at the wellThat ingratitude for God’s providence hardens my heart and grieves the Lord just as much as the neglect of the nine ungrateful recipients of Jesus’ pity and healing.[4]  Happily, His gaze is not just skin deep; He wants to make ‘eye contact’ with our hearts.  Jesus patiently engages the Samaritan woman who, despite beginning by grumbling at her perceived exclusion from Jesus’ gaze, comes to lift her head, look her Lord in the eye and see His radiant face inviting her into His friendship, to share His joy in allowing us to worship His Father wherever our path takes us.[5]

I am too often preoccupied with not getting what I want.  Learning to want what I get can turn my daily path into holy ground, allowing me to glimpse Jesus and hopefully invite others to turn their eyes to Him as well. Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist and the Father’s providential particulars can help us lift our gaze and be glad.

Peggy Gibson

[1] Rev R Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (Charlotte, North Carolina: Tan Books, 2013) p 504.  Also available under the heading of Examination of Conscience: Communions without thanksgiving from: http://www.christianperfection.info/tta44.php#bk4; Internet; accessed October 9, 2018

[2] Ibid., 506-507

[3]St Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola,  Louis J Puhl, SJ translation available from: http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl; Internet; accessed October 9, 2018

[4] Luke 17:11-19

[5] John 4:23

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