Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gratitude

Anne from "Imprisoned in my Bones" posted a beautiful piece that reflected a holy gratitude. I was moved by her words, and began to consider my own heart - for what am I grateful today? I was first struck by the reality that it took another's gratitude for me to consider my own…a weakness, to be sure. It does not often come naturally for me, nor for many, do I suspect. I must work at gratitude; it is not difficult when presented with great generosity, surely. I recall a Christmas many years ago when I was still a student where a dear old friend arrived with gifts and food for our family - gratitude came easy. I recollect many instances of goodness bestowed upon myself and those I love when gratitude was the very bread I ate…and yet, day to day, it is not so much as a crumb.

Thomas Aquinas considered gratitude to be part of the virtue of justice - giving thanks due for what is received. As I consider my lack of gratitude for the daily gifts of life I realize that I violate that virtue of justice by withholding the thanks due to Him in whom I move and have my being.

To avoid public self-flagellation, I must consider that gratitude has been, at least, a fairly frequent acquaintance in my life; I have blogged as such in the past. I am very grateful for my beautiful spouse, beloved children, Mother Church, my career that provides for us all, my mind, my gifts…yet each day I receive their wonder anew. Why is not my gratitude so reflected? Why is my gratitude reserved for moments of magnanimous giving and absent in the mundane reality of existence? St. Augustine writes:
"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering... Now, let us acknowledge the wonder of our physical incarnation— that we are here, in these particular bodies, at this particular time, in these particular circumstances. May we never take for granted the gift of our individuality."
In prayer, we so often reserve the bulk of time to personal requests -- not to diminish that, please don't misunderstand, for we are called to depend on God in all things --but I consider the sole leper who returned to Christ with thanks and praise. "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you." He received the greatest gift - salvation - because of his gratitude.

Gratitude is not commonplace, at least in my opinion. I do not see it as a mark of our culture, our present times. Yet history reflects our present predicament; Tacitus, a great Roman historian from the first century AD wrote, "Men are more ready to repay injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure." The burden of gratitude - to owe thanks, is seen as heavier to man than to seek ill of a foe. I don't suspect there is much change in our collective conscience since that quote was penned. Joseph Stalin is thought to have stated, "Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs." Much has been written that equates gratitude with weakness and debt to another.

This does not reflect what we are called to. In reality, our successes, our relationships, our very lives are gifts to be thankful for. Wealth and success that deprives us of gratitude deprives us of the treasures that do not decay; "In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others."
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Ethics (1949)

I want to be like the leper who pleases the Lord with my thanksgiving; I don't want to be one of the other nine he inquires about with sadness. I want, like the silly picture above, to live as such that my name is synonymous with gratitude...though I am not sure how. I have read of those who keep "gratitude journals", who consider and record each moment of goodness; but I am most intrigued by those such as St. Faustina who find gratitude even in suffering, and marvel at their holiness:

"Jesus, I thank you for little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans....

"I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form.... I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why.... In You, O Lord, is all good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank You, O Jesus, for everything!"
To me that is the height of gratitude. My prayer is that in little ways I aspire to that holiness.

I am thankful for this blog for affording the opportunity to read the words of others and consider my own gratitude…there, a good start. Now, to where?

6 comments:

  1. David, your gratitude quotes are wonderful! My favorite, maybe because it's so simple, is by Meister Eckhart: "If the only prayer you ever say is 'Thank You' that will be enough."

    You're right, it's easy to say thank you when things are going well, but to emulate St. Faustina and say thank you for our sufferings-I don't know! That's a whole other story now, isn't it? You notice I didn't write my gratitude post on a day when the homily was boring, my daughter was fidgeting, my sons were fighting, the lady behind me kept talking and the music was off! Now, to say thank you for that, that would be something!

    And I have to add, I am thankful for you and your wife and your beautiful family, who give such a wonderful witness to the glory of life and living our faith!

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  2. PS-Hello to your saintly wife! Please tell Michelle that I miss her writings and hope that all is well with her!

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  3. "I am very grateful for my beautiful spouse"

    Men are all the same. This is the first thing I'm grateful for, too. Last night I was telling my wife how beautiful she is, and then noted, "Of course that allows me to indulge my most shallow inclinations." Men just like to be in the company of a woman who is easy on the eyes.

    It's such a consolation.

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  4. It is consolation, indeed! Of course, I blush at the exposure of our more base nature...LOL!

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  5. Your family is beautiful; what a wonderful thing for which to be grateful.

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  6. How loving to be grateful for your wife. I'm sure God is smiling over that.

    Interesting that Stalin's contempt for gratitude fits right in with his murderous nature.

    I am working on gratitude myself so was glad to see your post.

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