Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Retreat report

Yesterday's theme was "The Penitent Heart is a Grateful Heart."

Kathleen Norris (page 280) cited an ancient monk as saying that “Repentance without thanksgiving would be despair [and]...thanksgiving without repentance would be presumptousness.”

The founder wrote: "Keep in mind to fulfill the duty of riconoscenza [“grateful acknowledgment]. St. Paul is the one who suggests it to us: 'And be grateful!'”  "A decade or two later later he speaks of it again in the context of the particular judgment: “Oh! If only we were to reflect on our past life and picture a twofold story: the story of God's mercy [key word] towards us; in other words, how 'the hand of the Lord which is over us' has guided us, and the story of our response to the Lord's countless graces”. This is his definition of the examen of consciousness: “It is to recognize our benefits and thus be able to say: Thanks be to God! Because everything comes from him. It is to recognize our failings and be able to say: with the help of God's grace I want to remove this or that from my heart. It is to recognize what remains to be done in order to keep on working to make progress.” “We have sincerely to reflect on all the gifts that the Lord has given us,” natural and supernatural.”

Alberione is in line with the best of them in giving this kind of importance to thanksgiving, something I have to admit I fall very short on this point. I treat thanksgiving like an act of politeness before getting to the stuff I really want to pray about (er, "for")... but the saints tell us that the prayer of thanksgiving is also a preparation for new favors from God. St Teresa (Interior Castle, 4th mansion, Chapter 3) wrote, regarding the beginning of interior prayer, “Anyone who is conscious that this is happening within herself should give God great praise, for she will be very right to recognize what a favor it is, and the thanksgiving which she makes for it will prepare her for greater favors. One preparation for listening to him...is being intent upon discovering what the Lord is working in the soul...”

The penitent heart is stirred to love by the recognition of what good has been done for me. So the first stage of the penitent heart is this grateful recognition. The examen starts with thanksgiving—otherwise, instead of responsiveness, everything is reduced to dry duty, almost a mathematical transaction. Robert Roberts (Spiritual Emotions, p 144): “You get what you pay for and you earn what you get” is not a Christian worldview. “The obstacles to Christian gratitude are human resistances to acknowledge our dependence on God, and the failure to appreciate the gifts he gives us and the beauty of relationship with him."
Books cited:

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