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Counting blessings, giving thanks

There are two traditions in Christianity that vie for our allegiance.

Augustine, out of his profligate life experience, came to believe that the whole human race was a massa damnata, a mess of rebellious souls who deserve to be dangled over and ultimately dropped into the fires of hell to burn.

Like Augustine, Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was haunted by a sense of pervasive sinfulness. He fasted. He prayed. He adopted extreme ascetic practices. He thought about suicide. Eventually, Ignatius had a change of heart and mind that ended his self-flagellating. He discovered a God of grace who freely bathed him in blessings galore. He cultivated a set of spiritual exercises that begins with gratitude for simple things in life, like warm sunshine in the spring and springs of endless sources of water. His winter having turned into spring, Ignatius discerned that ingratitude was the most abominable, the deadliest of sins, “the cause, beginning and origin of all evils.”

Pastoral counselors have people visit them with a problem we could call inordinate scrupulosity. The word scrupulosity comes from scrupulum, Latin for a small, sharp stone. Overly scrupulous people are like a marathon runner with a pebble in a shoe that causes pain every step of life’s race. They don’t experience being bathed in grace, and without grace there is no peace.

I watched, from a distance, a teenager in college who spent his days picking up litter on campus. He wasn’t an employee of the school. Joyless head bent downward, he practiced his custom-made penance for a self-esteem deficit.

We’re still trudging through a disruptive, deadly, depressing pandemic. It’s important occasionally to make ourselves lift our weary hearts and chins, smile and find a reason to whisper or shout a grateful thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!