"This loss of a sense of the future, which is so characteristic of North America at this time, has a bearing on many of today's seemingly disparate social issues. Only a present-centered society, for example, will lay waste the environment and leave it as a garbage heap for future generations. Only such a society will risk a global holocaust in order to preserve its present way of life. There is a dangerous myopia in mortgaging the future through spending policies in which the benefit to a few now will be paid for by many in the years to come," writes Mary Jo Letty, who teaches theology at Regis College and for the last 12 years has lived and worked with refugees in the Romero House Community in Toronto. She is the author of the best-selling book Reweaving Religious Life. Her description of the crisis in spirit facing North America at the present moment is right on target.
All of the above are signs of a pervasive ingratitude that hovers over society as a whole and many individuals. Consumerism is at the heart of our discontent. No matter what we have now, it is never enough. We are programmed to want more, better, or different. The billionaire Howard Hughes was once asked how much money it would take to make him happy and he reportedly replied, "Just a little more." Sadly enough, our craving even seeps into our spirituality. Consider the yearning many people have for the latest books, CDs, retreats, or even expensive tours of holy sites.
Letty believes that ingratitude is "ingrained within every social class within the culture of money" and that it lies at the root of our "difficulty in loving God beyond guilt and in loving others freely." In contrast, the author salutes certain exemplars of gratitude including Albert Camus, Etty Hillesum, and Dorothy Day. Of course, Jesus is the prime example of radical gratitude, and the Eucharist is Christianity's prime ritual of thanksgiving.
The author salutes The Decline of The Empire, a Canadian film written and directed by Denys Arcand in which the downfall and disintegration of the North American dream of meaning and prosperity is vividly portrayed. One of the characters says: "We have no vision, no models or metaphors to live by. Only the saints and the mystics live well at a time like this." So what can we learn from the saints and the mystics? To spell out our days with a grammer of gratitude.