Gratitude as the starting point of the spiritual life

Thanksgiving is behind us, but gratitude is not something we should focus on only once a year. The word Eucharist means ‘giving thanks’ and so as Catholics we must be especially mindful of our need to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done for us.

In fact, Fr. Pat McGrath recently stopped by  Morning Air® to explain why gratitude is a foundational part of growth in the spiritual life, and why our sense of gratitude should last longer than our Thanksgiving leftovers. Fr. Pat said:

“The older I get, the more I listen to smart people talk about their faith life, and the more I learn about our saints and spiritual traditions, the more convinced I am that gratitude sits at the heart of the spiritual life. In a sense, it’s a primary building block or foundation of any progress in the spiritual life.

For St. Ignatius of Loyola, all sin is in some way a manifestation of a lack of gratitude. As all of us are in our more enlightened moments, he was overwhelmed with the experience of what God had done for him and what God was doing for him. He came to see sin and sinfulness as those moments when we fail to be grateful for what God has done for us. If I were more aware in my daily life of what God has done for me, and is doing for me, I wouldn’t be drawn to this sin, I would be drawn to a more virtuous response.

For Ignatius, the spiritual life pivots right there. The start for us is to recognize what God has done for us. It is first an acknowledgement of God’s action, it is first an awareness of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and what God is doing for us constantly as God is laboring to bring us and all Creation into the fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom.

So I think gratitude as a spiritual pathway starts there. It starts with God. It starts with recognizing the giver of the gift. And from that awareness of what God has done for me – that without any merit of my own, God has created me, saved me, sustained me, leads me, and constantly draws me into deeper relationship – there is a movement quite naturally toward gratitude and thankfulness.

For St. Ignatius and so many of the great mystics and saints of our tradition, they start there. They recognize that the starting point in the spiritual life is to pay attention and to notice God, and then be naturally drawn to gratitude. … And from that we’re changed. From that awareness and gratitude, that’s where movement in the spiritual life can happen.”

Listen to the full conversation with Fr. Pat McGrath below:

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 6-9 a.m. Eastern/3-6 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.