Monday, May 09, 2011

Retreat Report: A Grateful Heart

In case you missed last summer's "retreat reports" (don't worry; I'm not on retreat--I'm preaching it), I'll see if I can keep you in the loop with the daily meditation themes. Even though it's the same content as last year.
Today is officially day 2 of the retreat, but day 1 is more of an initiation into the retreat frame of mind. Today is when I really started talking about the subject, drawn from the divine message our Founder wanted written in every Pauline chapel in the world: "Do not be afraid; I am with you. From here [tabernacle] I want to enlighten. Live with a penitent heart." (Read about it here.)
The "fear not; I am with you" shows up all over the place in the bible, as does the theme of light. But the "penitent heart" phrase is a bit challenging--though it is very enlightening when you look at it through the bible's many calls to repentance. Our Founder's original expression was in Latin, "cor poenitens tenete," and it has been translated many ways: "be sorry for sin"; "live in continual conversion" or "have a penitent heart." But that "tenete" always gets lost in the translation, which is odd, because "tenete" means "keep" or "hold fast"!
What I decided to do is focus on the qualities of the penitent heart, and do that in some sort of order. Since everything starts from grace, the first quality of the penitent heart is gratitude. The penitent heart is stirred to love by the recognition of what good has been done "for me". The examen itself starts with thanksgiving—otherwise, instead of responsiveness, everything is reduced to dry duty, almost a mathematical transaction. Robert Roberts (Spiritual Emotions, p 144) wrote: “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.”

And Russian Orthodox liturgist Alexander Schmemann blew me away with this insight: “The Church convicts sin through her thanksgiving. Through which she recognizes the vital lessons of evil, the source of sin as unthankfulness, as man's falling away from the 'hymning, blessing, praising, giving thanks and worshiping' through which he lives—for man, and in him all creation, knows God and has communion with him. Not giving thanks is the root and the driving force of ... pride …. The spiritual essence of pride, properly distinguishable only in the spiritual effort of 'discernment of spirits,' lies precisely in the fact that, as opposed to all other causes ascribed to the fall, it alone is not from below but from above: It is not from perfection, but from completion, not from deficiency but from an overabundance of gifts, and not from weakness but from power. In other words, it comes not from some unexplainable 'evil' of an unknown origin, but from the enticement and temptation of the divine 'very good' of creation in man. Pride is opposed to thanksgiving precisely as unthanksgiving because it arose from the same causes as thanksgiving. It is another, opposite answer to the same gift; it is temptation by the same gift.” (Eucharist, page 187).

St Ignatius (and many other saints with him) even said we should give grateful praise to God for our good desires! We ought not ignore them, or assume they originate in our own hearts. Good desires are a form of grace for which we owe due thanks. Not a perfunctory "thanks" of politeness ("thank you, Lord. And now to the real business at hand...") but heartfelt and amazed thanks: "the Almighty has done great things for me! He, the Almighty! for me!"

No comments: