“Cling to what is good.” As we finally find ourselves in the fine time just before Thanksgiving, I return to this simple phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.
I began this calendar year with these same words. The phrase came to me as I was reflecting on the upcoming year: my goals, resolutions, hopes, fears. Now, from this November vantage, I realize this mantra has persisted over the course of these months.
In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s worldview, clinging to the good is the point of departure for all of one’s life. Phrased differently, that act is gratitude.
In a letter dated March 18, 1542, Ignatius writes of the opposite. He explains ingratitude as “a failure to recognize the good things, the graces, and the gifts received.” He continues, “On the contrary, recognition and gratitude for the good things and gifts received is greatly loved both in heaven and on earth.”
This link between clinging to the good and gratitude is a cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality, culled from “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola” — more commonly known as the “Examen.” The “Examen” is a spiritual practice of interior reflection open to different faith and nonfaith expressions. It is a means to reflect on one’s experiences to obtain deeper meaning. The poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote that people often have the experience and miss the meaning; the “Examen” assists in discovering the deeper meaning rooted in gratitude in the midst of our day-to-day lives.
We must cling to the good in our day-to-day experiences. While the “Examen” is at the heart of every Jesuit’s daily prayer, one can easily slip into taking the good in life for granted. On Nov. 7, the Georgetown University community celebrated Diwali, the festival of light and illumination observed in the Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Newari Buddhist religions. At the opening of the ceremony, Bramachari Sharan, director of Hindu life, offered a brief explanation of Diwali. He described the festival not only as a celebration of the victory of light over darkness but also a recognition and embrace of light as our starting point — and the point to which we return.
Cling in gratitude to that good from which we originate. All too often, when we slightly and subtly slip away from that light and gratitude, we tend to view our lives and world quite differently. We become besieged by the notions that darkness is on equal footing in our lives and our world. We become desperate enough to consider that darkness will prevail. In such moments, we need to take the time — individually and collectively, in personal silence and in celebrations such as Diwali — to recalibrate ourselves. Light is our starting point indeed. In taking time to reflect upon and celebrate this notion, we return to a spirit of gratitude. Once again, we cling to what is good.
As we welcome this Thanksgiving holiday, may we be more intentional — more mindful of that light in our lives. Let us allow ourselves to be more attentive to the gifts and graces that are our families and friends. Let us continue to cling to what is good these days. It is in clinging to what is good that we enter a spirit of truly giving thanks — a spirit of gratitude.
Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., is the Catholic chaplain at Georgetown University. As This Jesuit Sees It appears online every other Thursday.