On one occasion I planned to greet the catechism children by giving them their Catechism book that they would use for the year. There was a big group of the children. After distributing the texts one at a time, I was expecting to hear something, something very small, but very important: Thank You! To my chagrin not one of the 25 students expressed a word of gratitude. I left the classroom in dismay feeling sad for the children, but also for their parents, for their lack of gratitude—no apparent attitude of gratitude.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, offers a long list of the virtues in the Summa Theologica among which are some that are categorized as the social virtues. One of the primary ones is that of gratitude, thankfulness. In a very real sense gratitude, thankfulness, and the whole attitude of gratitude, is an all-important virtue that makes our social life more meaningful, more agreeable, more wholesome and healthy.
In fact, a person imbued with a sincere attitude of gratitude, that spontaneous and frequent thank you resounding from their heart and lips, is definitely a sign of being well-trained, well-educated and refined.
WORDS OF WISDOM ON THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE AND US…
Let’s go through a panorama of places where thanksgiving and gratitude are manifested: among the saints (God’s dear friends), in literature, in the Mass, and in Sacred Scripture. Actually Sacred Scripture is replete with references to the dire importance of gratitude.
1. SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA. This great Saint who left us the Spiritual Exercises, the Rules for Discernment, and the Jesuit Order aka the Company of Jesus, leaves us some gems on gratitude and the lack of it. He actually stated that the essence of sin is Ingratitude—a failure to recognize God’s providential Hand in giving us gifts. Saint Ignatius, in the steps doing the daily Examen, states that we should always start off examining our day by first rendering thanks to God for all that He has given us in the course of the past 24 hours. God loves a cheerful giver, but God is also enchanted with a person who manifests gratitude, a grateful heart.
2. MEISTER ECKHART (1260-1328). This mystic, writer, theologian and philosopher when referring to the art of prayer and thanksgiving stated the following: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is – Thank You – it will be enough.” How important indeed is an attitude of gratitude.
3. SHAKESPEARE. In one of his classic tragedies, Macbeth, Shakespeare made this cutting statement related to gratitude and the lack of it: “More painful than a serpent’s tooth is that of an ungrateful child.” How cutting and even devastating it can be, when parents give and give to their children and receive nothing more than ingratitude in return. How important it is for children to simply say “Thank You”, especially to those who brought them into this world, who gave them their life’s breath.
4. THE MASS/THE EUCHARIST. How fascinating this reality! The greatest of all prayers underneath the sun is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; it is the prayer par excellence. Another name for the Mass is the Eucharist—which actually is translated as Thanksgiving. Every time we enter into the Church for Holy Mass we are indirectly saying “Thank You” to God, Eucharist—thanksgiving!
5. THANKSGIVING DAY. Every year, on the 3rd Thursday in November in the United States of America, the National Holiday of Thanksgiving is joyfully celebrated. It is usually one of the most traveled celebrations every year. Of course, thanksgiving in all respects should characterize this National Holiday. The hope is that the spirit of this day of thanksgiving perseveres and imbues our lives, for all the days of our lives.
SACRED SCRIPTURE AND THANKSGIVING—ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE.
Let us glean a few key Biblical verses that highlight the importance of expressing and living our gratitude. If there ever was an individual, in fact a great saint, who constantly preached, taught, reminded others and lived out thanksgiving, this attitude of gratitude, it was the Apostle to the Gentiles, the great Saint Paul. Let’s read, meditate and assimilate the doctrine of Saint Paul on gratitude.“And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were all called in one body. And be thankful.” (Col. 1:15) How interesting this really is, the interconnection between peace of heart and being thankful. Perhaps if we had more grateful people in the world we would experience greater peace.
1. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer, petition and thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Phil. 4:6)
2. “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thes. 5:17)
3. “In whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)
4. “Give thanks for the faith.” (Romans 1:8)
5. “Give thanks for fraternal charity.” (Col. 1: 3-4)
SOME POSITIVE FRUITS OR BENEFITS OF GRATITUDE.
After giving a list of manifestations of thanksgiving from the lives of the saints, from literature, from the Mass and from Saint Paul who constantly encouraged his communities in his letters to render thanksgiving, we would like to encourage all to cultivate this attitude of gratitude by emphasizing the numerous positive fruits or benefits that flow from this heart-warming attitude of gratitude.
1. THEOLOGICAL DIMENSION. Every time you express gratitude by word or gesture this pleases God Himself. God smiles down upon you every time you make a simple gesture of gratitude.
2. SOCIAL DIMENSION. By expressing gratitude the domino effect kicks in. Try it! Very often when we say “Thanks”/“Thank You”, the response will be “You’re Welcome” or “Thank You!” Let’s start the ball rolling in our attitude of gratitude.
3. FAMILY. In the context of the family, when we are able to constantly render thanks to others there is more peace, harmony, mercy, good will and love. Also, the virtue of humility crowns the attitude of gratitude.
4. PERSONAL GROWTH. Once I can say “Thank You” to others, I recognize how dependent I really am on others, and as mentioned earlier, the virtue of humility blossoms and flourishes.
5. THE WORK ENVIRONMENT. All too often in the context of the work environment there is abundant criticism, gossip, back-biting, sarcasm and irony, vulgarity, and even cursing. To neutralize this caustic, toxic and even lethal atmosphere, thanksgiving can transform the whole labor milieux. It is interesting how the reality of evil can be overcome and conquered by goodness. The attitude of gratitude and a thankful heart can turn a gloom and doom atmosphere into peace, joy, harmony, mutual understanding and love.
To conclude our short conversation, let us all make a decision right now to have an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE!!! Let us get in the habit of saying “Thanks” at home, at work, in stores, and in family gatherings. But most especially, let us constantly give thanks to God! All the good we had in the past, we have now, or we will have in our lives is the sheer goodness of God who loves us and constantly wants to give us even more graces and blessings. May the words of the Psalmist echo in our minds, hearts and lips: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 136: 1)