Gratitude is always Saint Ignatius’ starting point. Before we reflect or pray, discern or make a decision, begin a new day, or embark on anything important, he calls on us to remember everything that we have to be grateful for. His little daily spiritual exercise, the examen, begins with gratitude.
If you are attentive to your own responses to what happens in your daily life, you will probably notice that a lot of it is down to a feeling of entitlement – a feeling that I am due certain things, courtesies, privileges, comforts, rewards, breaks. Ignatius wants us to think and feel in a different way. Instead of insisting on your entitlements, consider rather what has already been gifted to you: your health and family, shelter and security, enough to eat, plentiful clean water, friends, freedom, the rights and protection of the law, your education, talents and pastimes, the love of God in Jesus Christ, and all the small daily blessings that, when noticed, bring joy to life.
Just as Ignatius begins his Spiritual Exercises with gratitude, so he concludes them with generosity. As we become more practised at being grateful, we realize just how gifted and blessed we are, often without really deserving it. Out of this growing realization comes a powerful desire to be generous, “to give and not to count the cost.” Generosity is the inevitable consequence of the practice of gratitude.
St Ignatius had an important principle that deeds were more important than words (Spiritual Exercises n.230) and so, for him, generosity will show itself better in the things we do for others than in what we say. More often than not, it is the small acts of daily kindness and generosity, putting others before ourselves, which have a greater and deeper impact than the occasional grand gesture.
People who lack generosity are often fearful that they will lose something by giving and be diminished. But those who have experienced the freedom of being generous discover that the opposite is true. The more you give, the more will be given you. (Luke 6:38) Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Never measure your generosity by what you give, but rather by what you have left.” This is what it means to be big-hearted and truly generous.
Gratitude and generosity are the virtues which underlie an attitude to life that is outward looking, regards other people as precious gifts, and encourages young people to grow to be 'men and women for others'.