Grace: To experience a deeply-felt gratitude for all of the blessings God has given me, that I may thereby become completely devoted to His Divine Majesty in effective love.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises no. 230-237
“Love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words.”
-St. Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises #230
Sin and grace are rooted in the contrary attitudes of selfishness and love, reflecting the fundamental models of Satan and God that the Spiritual Exercises invites us to choose between. This is particularly clear in the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God (or “contemplatio” for short) that concludes the retreat.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1849) defines sin as the “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” Sin “turns our hearts away” (#1850) from God’s love. Ignoring the two Great Commandments of Jesus, we hurt others on purpose (damaging our relationships with God, ourselves, and others) because of our inordinate desires for money, sex, and power.
In a letter to a Portuguese Jesuit dated 18 March 1542, St. Ignatius Loyola declared that “the most abominable of sins” is ingratitude, the habitual refusal to acknowledge the gifts God has given us. Ingratitude arises from selfishness, the unspoken attitude that I can do whatever I feel like doing without worrying how my actions affect others. Because I have to be happy and express myself, I don’t stop to think who I make unhappy in order to do it, but simply act on my urges. By living only for myself, I gradually allow my sins to become habitual and thoughtless vices. The Evil Spirit tempts me not to care who I make poor in order to be rich and not to worry about who I disrespect in order to be respected.
Once I gain riches and honors, the Evil Spirit tempts me to pride, the sin of thinking I am better than others since I am more fortunate than them. Once we are hardened in this selfish idea that we are entitled to more than others, we find it easy and natural to shut our hearts to God’s love, disrespecting others. But God is not mocked. We suffer punishment for our sins in this lifetime (and not just in the afterlife) because of the pain and misery that results from billions of people selfishly hurting each other on purpose. God does not cause our suffering; we alone cause it. God allows us (free will) to hurt each other, but only in the hope that our painful experience of evil will be a grace that drives us to reject sin and embrace love.
By contrast, grace is “favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us” (#1996) to move from selfishness to selflessness in our lifelong path to holiness. Sanctifying and actual grace are both rooted in the self-giving love of Christ’s sacrifice. We cooperate with grace by embracing his cross, giving ourselves to others just as he gives himself to us. Perfect love forgets itself and wills the good of the other. It is not rooted in fear of hell or desire of heaven, as good as those things are, but in our selfless desire for the good of others.
God’s love is free and unmerited. The “contemplatio” of the Exercises invites us to appreciate this fact through reflecting on the many gifts God has given us, inviting us to a state of grateful attentiveness to God’s love, a wordless and unthinking contemplation that consists of total absorption in God’s loving presence. If we can accept on a deeply-felt level that God loves us unconditionally, we will feel moved to freely love others as God loves us. When all is said and done, love is both the beginning and the end of our relationship with God.
Questions: Do I see myself and the world through the eyes of selfishness or of love? How does God shown his love for me? For what things am I most grateful?