A Few Gratitudes

The center of our Faith is Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” That means that the center of our Faith is thanksgiving. It is in the form of a thanksgiving meal that our Lord chose to make Himself present to us. And He did so, shockingly, “on the night He was betrayed.” In other words, He defiantly gives thanks and praise to His Father in precisely the place where we humans immediately turn to make the most obvious case for atheism — the place where the enraged atheist cries out and says, “If there is a loving God, why do the innocent suffer horrors and die in torments with nobody to help them?” Jesus was that innocent one. A few hours after His defiant act of thanks, He would sweat blood in prayer and go (seemingly) unheard to a kangaroo court, a horsewhipping, and to a horrific death surrounded by taunts and jeers.

And yet, He gave thanks and taught us to do the same in memory of Him. That’s because “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). In short, He knew that however sad our earthly story is, the truth is that God is love and that the real story of the universe is eucatastrophe that climaxes in Joy, beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief (as J. R. R. Tolkien put it).

 

Accordingly, when the world gets me down, I think one of the best things a Christian can do is defiantly give thanks and assume a sort of willful and rebellious (to the prince of this world) attitude of cheerfulness that imitates Jesus’ countercultural happiness. It’s subversive and one of the great and fun things about being a Christian. So:

 

Thanks be to God for God. That’s at the heart of all Christian praise. The sheer stunning fact that God is at all, quite apart from any possible goodies He gives us. In all the good things around us, the miracle is that, before they are, He is. The Life pulsating at the center of things; the Being who speaks all beings into being.

Thanks be to God that He is a He and not an it. That too is at the heart of all Christian praise: the conviction that our God is personal and not a mere force or fate. That He is truly greater than we, not merely in terms of raw power, but in the fact that He is more personal than we are. Thanks be to God that we do not cower before Tash the Inexorable, but bow like free men and women before the Lord who made us in His image and likeness.

Thanks be to God that He is so personal that He is three Persons and not a lonely monad floating in the ether. Thanks be to God that He is Love and not mere Thought.

Thanks be to God that it is in Love that He created the world. Thanks be to God that our earliest intuitions of the Beauty that lies behind the beauty we see all around us is not a cheat, fraud, delusion, or snare, but our primal sacramental encounter with the truth of things: that God is good. Thanks be to God that, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, even since the Fall and all we have done to screw things up,

for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Thanks be to God for permitting the Fall, and for remaining with us (and with me) through all our pagan wanderings. Thanks be to God for His mercies when we broke His heart, and for His inexhaustible love when we made ourselves into things only God could love. O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that won for us so great a salvation!

 

Thanks be to our great God Jesus Christ for His sacrificial death for our ungrateful and unhappy race. The longer I live, the more appreciative I become of the sheer human courage it took to do what He did for us. “Jesus died for our sins” can take on a certain sing-song hypnotic quality, like the Pledge of Allegiance or any other piece of rote repetition. Reading the Gospels as human documents before receiving them as divine ones, what strikes me is simply how much guts our Lord displayed in going up against a power structure that hated Him, a foreign occupier that regarded Him as either a number or an insurgent, and a mob that saw in Him merely a piece of meat to beguile a few hours with the pleasure of watching a victim in torments.

For Him to pour out His whole heart and soul for such a race, and for Him to continue doing it down the ages, despite the fact that our ingenuity in cruelty only becomes sharper as we prepare for Armageddon . . . what words of gratitude can there be for such love? Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Thanks be to God the Holy Spirit, for the sheer plenitude of strange and beautiful ways the Lord, the Giver of Life, has given life to the world. Thanks be to Him for the astonishing variety of His creatures: for four-eyed fish, and dinosaurs, and my dog Snoopy when I was a boy. Thanks be to Him for the Life betokened by life and for the astonishing and simple grace of baptism through His amazing creation of water.

Thanks be to God for His astounding gift of Holy Church: for the fathers and mothers of our faith who were willing to endure such torments, because they saw the heavenly Zion and could not wait to get there. Thanks be to Him for pouring out on His Church such a vast treasury of beauty, wisdom, goodness, and sanity in the middle of a world that holds it all in utter contempt even as it benefits from it. Thanks for the breathtaking generosity of spirit from His servants in giving and giving such goodness to the world, even as the world takes it and tears it to tatters. Thanks that even that spite becomes yet another occasion of grace. And thanks for the miracle of conversion and the tenderness with which you welcome each of us fools to the new birth, Lord. Thanks especially for welcoming this fool and putting up with his folly and stupid pride all these years. It’s a good thing you promise eternal life, Lord. Because it will take that long to get my soul in shape to be worthy of a tiny fraction of the generosity you keep pouring out. You are the everlasting river that wears mountains down in time. Thank you.

Thanks be to God for the inexhaustible life of the sacraments — especially the Eucharist, wherein, to my astonishment, I get to receive the blessed Son of God into my very guts. Thanks for the heartbreaking mercy I have found in the confessional, where the love of God meets me again and again and speeds me on my way both to the unthinkable gift of the Blessed Sacrament, and to a second chance at life. Thanks be to God for the sweet sacrament of marriage and the heartachingly beautiful gift of Janet, who has been my friend and model of sanctity for nearly three decades. Thank you for the blessing of each one of our sons, who are, in their wonderful ways, growing to be the human beings and men of God that we pray for each day.

Thank you for the sheer providential care, the astonishing unlikelihood, of my being at all — the infinitude of chances, choices, and cooperations between grace and nature that made it possible for that particular sperm and that particular egg to meet when and where they did. Thank you for defective diaphragms! It is a mystery that boggles my mind and overwhelms thought, yet to you it is simplicity itself, Lord. I don’t understand it in the slightest, but I am grateful for it beyond words.

Thank you for my father and mother: the first sacrament of your love I ever had. Thank you for Dad’s determination to be the father he never had and the loving husband and provider that my mom needed. Thank you for his openness to grace when he was so badly deprived of contact with the gospel. Thank you for my mother’s love and bravery in raising us and losing him. Thank you for my brothers, whom I worshipped as a child and whom I admire still and love to spend time with. Thank you for memories of being turned invisible by Mike, of seeking Rick’s wisdom about who invented shoes, of garden hose water fights, and old home movies and Christmases that lie 52 years thick and full of joy in my heart still.

 

Thanks be to God for the country and civilization into which I was born! Without my deserving it at all, I was given riches I could not (and still can’t) imagine, free of charge, by countless people who lived and died all the way back to Adam. They handed me a language, a massive treasury of art and thought and courageous sacrifices so that the world I entered was a quiet street in Everett, Washington, and not a salt mine, or a war-torn hellhole, or a totalitarian nightmare, or an abortuary. Thank you for the vision, still not wholly lost, of the country described in the most beautiful anthem our heritage has ever produced, “America, the Beautiful.” Thank you for this nation with the soul of a church. May God thy gold refine.

Thanks be to God for my native land of Washington and the stunning beauty that greets me simply by looking out my back window each morning. Thank you for the shady bower of the alder tree that stands outside my window, and for the window (and the hobbit-hole house) it stands outside of.

Thank you for health and the goodness of 21st-century medicine. Thank you that I am alive after illnesses that would have killed people a century ago. Thank you that my wife did not die in childbirth and that my son did not suffer brain damage from a labor that would have done both a few decades ago. Thank you for Novocain, aspirin, and codeine!

Thank you for work and the technology to do it! Thank you for literacy and the army of teachers who gave it to me and my readers. Thank you for the countless people who make it possible for these words to get from my computer (a mysterious gift of grace I do not understand at all) over the Internet (another mystery of grace) to InsideCatholic (yet another mysterious cooperation of man and God that produces good fruit by His divine power).

Thank you for the bare elementals of existence like air, earth, water, and fire. Thank you that the very dirt I walk on is the labor of billions of years and that any stone I might chance to pick up has been around longer than the dinosaurs. Thank you for the mysterious gift of water, for the air (which I would really miss badly if it were denied me more than a few seconds), and for the plain light of the sun, the one thing I can look at knowing that Jesus Christ saw the same thing.

I could go on and on, Father, but I just wanted to take some time and give you a smidge of the gratitude you deserve. It doesn’t add anything to your glory and happiness, I know. But it’s still, as you teach us, “right to give you thanks and praise.” Thank you that, even in that, your generosity is such that you turn it to our good by making our hearts a little larger so that there is more room for you. Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

Mark P. Shea

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Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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