Monday, July 7, 2014

The Rewards of Godliness
"Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask for reward,
Save that of knowing that I am doing Your Will."
--St. Ignatius of Loyola, "Prayer for Generosity"

During the course of my schooling at a Jesuit school, I became well acquainted with the above prayer by St. Ignatius.  It is a prayer to dedicated to the Lord despite all the difficulties that come our way during this lifetime on earth.  "In the world you will have trouble," informed the Lord, and this is very true.  Christians will always experience friction with the aspects of the world that have not been fully enlightened by the light of Christ.  This is the basic theme of most of the prayer: Lord, teach me to serve You despite the difficulties the world will place on me.  One line has intrigued me, though: "To labor and not to ask for reward."

I usually interpreted it to refer to altruism, doing good without expecting any form of reward.  It reminded me of another prayer, the Litany of Humility of Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, which asks to be delivered from being praised and honored, loved and approved, in this life.  Of course, these are good things when taken in the proper sense, that is, the battle against pride, that great sin.  However, those that are overly scrupulous are suffer from a propensity for severe self-hatred can be damaged by it, for they are often too inclined to interpret the text in a way that denies the true worth they have from the Lord.  (I understand this because I usually have this propensity.)

In another sense, I have often connected this petition to a monumental Spanish sonnet from the Spanish Golden Age, the anonymous "A Cristo Crucificado" ("To Christ Crucified").  The main theme is contained in the opening line: "It does not move me, my God, to love You / the heaven that You have promised me..." (No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte / el cielo que me tienes prometido...)  Instead, "even if what I hope for I did not hope for, / the same that I love You I would love You." (aunque cuanto espero no esperara, / lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.)  This represents the purest love one can have for the Lord: to love Him for Who He is, regardless of whether we would receive anything from Him.  However, this is not the normal way of the Christian.

Christ Himself spoke of the rewards He would give to us.  Each of the Beatitudes ends with a description of some reward the blessed one will receive for his obedience to the Lord.  The fundamental reward Jesus bestows is explained in a saying by Abba Apollo: "I am going to work with Christ today, for the salvation of my soul, for that is the reward He gives."  Of course, the gift of the Lord is a free gift, but we must respond to His offer, we must accept His grace; at the very least, then, salvation is in part a reward for our acceptance.  St. Paul speaks of running the race of faith in order to win a heavenly crown, which is a reward, like a crown of the martyrs who have triumphant in their fight.  The Prayer of the Hours too affirms this: "O You Who call all men to repentance with the promise of blessings to come."  Those who will repent receive these blessings as a reward freely given by the Lord, as the employer freely gave the same wage to all the workers: provided, however, that they worked, even if only an hour.  As St. Photios states, "The present life is a stadium, and its conduct therefrom deserves rewards."

Since the majority of St. Ignatius' prayer seems to apply to the difficulties in this world, I think that the request to not receive a reward has a temporal meaning: St. Ignatius asks to be able to continue his work of the Gospel in the world, even when he receives no reward.  This is a holy sentiment, and one I hope I can inculcate in myself.  What I think it does not deny, though, is that we will receive a heavenly reward for our labors on earth, and it is for this reward that we can truthfully long for.  This prayer, then, reflects a saying of St. Gregory the Theologian: "Work to do good, for it is good to obey your Father, even if this will bring nothing for you.  This is itself a reward, to please your Father."  And with the rewarding of pleasing Him will come great rewards when we meet Him.

"Rejoice and exult, for your reward is manifold in heaven."--Mt 5:12

Nota Bene: The text of the Prayer of Generosity is from memory: I do not know who provided this translation.  The Litany of Humility can be found at EWTN.  "A Cristo Crucificado" is found in Anthology of Spanish Golden Age Poetry, edited by R. John McCaw and Kathleen Thornton Spinnenweber as No. 29 of the Cervantes & Co. Spanish Classics, edited by Tom Lathrop (Newark, DE: Cervantes & Co., 2007); the translations are mine.  The quote from Abba Apollo is from his Saying 1 in the alphabetical collection of the Apophthegmata Patrum, as translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG, in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984).  The quote from St. Photios is from his Epistle 86, as found in Despina Stratoudaki White's Patriarch Photios of Constantinople: His Life, Scholarly Contributions, and Correspondence Together with a Translation of Fifty-two of His Letters (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1981). The quote from St. Gregory is from his Oration 40.13, as found in Festal Orations translated by Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison, volume 36 of the Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008).

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